Artificial Spider Silk from Spiber & Bolt Threads Could Transform the Textile Industry

Artificial Spider Silk from Spiber & Bolt Threads Could Transform the Textile Industry


Hey there modern vegans, it’s Margaret. And today we’re going to talk about artificial spider silk. Now spider silk is nothing new. It’s something that people have been thinking about for a very long time. When I was a little girl, I remember looking at spiders webs and wondering why we didn’t make silk out of spiders webs, and my father wisely told me to go look in the World Book and find out if anyone had. Because that was what happened when I was a kid…the internet existed, but we didn’t really use it at our house, because we didn’t have a computer so the 1940 World Book was my source for most things, so I went and looked in the World Book, sure enough the article on spiders said Queen Victoria had received a garment made of silk – spider silk from an emissary from some foreign government during her reign. So that was in the 19th century. People were trying to create garments out of spiders, but this wasn’t exactly an easy process. Because as you can probably imagine, spiders are not very easy to domesticate. And so people have tried over the years, and as recently I think as 2011, there was a group of people who produced a lovely golden cape that I believe is now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in in London. That Cape was made out of the silk from 1,000,000 spiders so 1 million spiders it took to produce this Cape. It’s not even a very large cape! It was made by golden spiders, and so the silk is a very golden color, and it’s quite beautiful. But it took a million spiders and several years of many people working on this project.They actually had these little spiders hooked up to little machines that milked them and then spun their silk and gathered it. It was a very labor-intensive processm, which was complicated by the fact that spiders are naturally cannibals, and so when they’re kept in close quarters they eat each other, so they lost a few of their workers along the way. And aside from the fact that this isn’t very vegan, it’s also terribly inefficient. Since that time there have been a few other attempts to make this viable, because spider silk is extremely strong and several times stronger than steel, also at least three times stronger than Kevlar. So it’s a very strong fiber, and as such it has potential uses in the military and other purposes. It’s very lightweight and it’s resistant to tears and things like that. So it’s it’s very attractive to textile manufacturers, but up until this time it’s been kind of impractical to produce it. There was one experiment that was done a few years ago where they had genetically modified goats! They managed to manipulate the genes of these goats so the goats produced spider silk in their milk. I’m not kidding. I saw this on a Stephen Hawking program – one of his episodes was about some of the stuff about research into the future on his show – I think it was on his show, but they were trying to use these goats to produce spider silk. And as you can probably imagine, this was very inefficient, it didn’t work very well. There were all sorts of hiccups that they ran into in this research, and the company did eventually go bankrupt. So we are no longer producing spiders’ silk from goat’s milk. And that’s probably a good thing for all considered, particularly the goats. But there has been a new development in the production of synthetic spider silk, and that happened just recently in Japan. A company known as Spiber is producing artificial spider silk and what they’re doing is they’re using e-Coli bacteria as the catalyst basically to help produce these and I think there may be using sugar and e.coli bacteria in order to produce this silk, and it works quite well. They’re able to mass produce it, it’s just grown in vats and that’s how they they make it. No spiders are harmed, there’s no need to use animals of any kind in the process at any point, so it is a way of producing this fiber synthetically efficiently and it’s working very well. They have the first proof-of-concept already on sale – there were a number of jackets made for North Face that were made out of spider silk it was called the “Moon Parka,” I think – it’s called “Moon Parka” and it was on sale, but only in Japan. So it was on sale for a thousand dollars in Japan – one thousand US dollars – in Japan, and it seems to have sold pretty well. People enjoyed it and that was just kind of a proof-of-concept to show that they were able to create these materials, that they were able to sell it, that this was a real thing, and it seems to have gone very well. They still face a few hurdles, because it is more expensive to produce a fabric in this way. They were probably selling it for a bit under the cost of producing it, and there is another company that is in the United States that is their competitor. This company is called Bolt Threads, and Bolt is producing “bolts” of fabric that are made using a slightly different formula for producing the silk. But again, it is almost exactly molecularly identical to traditional spider silk. And it’s made using a genetically modified yeast in combination with sugar and water, so it’s almost like a beer that they make go through this fermentation process and then it’s extruded through a (this is just using a very basic description of how they do it), but it’s extruded in these long filaments, then the filaments are whipped kind of like candy floss or cotton candy, and in a process much like the creation of lyocell, they make this fabric. And so it creates these fibers – nice long, lightweight, fibers just like spider silk and then they’re able to weave garments out of that. And I look forward to this coming on the market probably within the next couple of years. It looks like Spiber is slightly ahead, although the cost of production for Bolt is much less than it is for Spiber, so we’ll see who who wins the race against time to create synthetic spider silk. So why is this so important? Why is it important that we’re producing synthetic spider silk? Well it’s important for a few reasons. First of all, this is going to be an extremely useful project. If this silk is made, and if it’s made efficiently and affordably, Bolt and Spiber both say by the time that they’re finished they’re going to be able to produce spider silk synthetically for the same cost as wool or natural silk are made today. And that’s great news, because it can be used in many different applications. It’s incredibly lightweight, this fabric, but it’s also incredibly strong, so when you think about the uses for for lace or silk or chiffon – all those kinds of things – you can start to realize what the tremendous capabilities of something like this could be. I mentioned having silk stockings that are made out of spider silk that will never lose their shape, will never get holes – things like that – there’s a lot of benefit to be made from from something like that. So we can see the advantage in that, and more than that it’s wonderful that they don’t need to exploit any animals in order to produce this. Bombyx Mori is the worm – the Chinese silkworm that is used to create silk. And every year about 10 billion Bombyx Mori are born and die in the silk making process. So in order to make silk, what they do is they take the young larvae, feed them tons and tons of mulberry leaves, and then when they create the cocoon, the cocoons are then boiled with the worms inside. Basically with a little caterpillar or larva inside, and they are boiled alive. So its not to damage these cocoons because when when you take the cocoon as a whole, it has an unbroken filament – so it’s just in one string, basically, that makes up the cocoon and so it’s a much more high quality fiber, a very long fiber length. And whereas, if you were to allow this larva to hatch, then it would destroy part of the cocoon, rendering much less valuable. If you’ve heard of ahimsa silk ahimsa or peace silk is made by allowing – and they still raise these animals in captivity, keep them indoors, feed them mulberry leaves all the same exact process – except instead of boiling them alive, what they do is they allow them to hatch, which basically damages the fiber of the silk, making it less valuable, and making it require more on silk worms in order to produce a smaller amount of silk and a poor quality of silk and so it’s not in very high demand. And it’s primarily a feel-good product, in my opinion, for people who want to wear natural silk but like to feel like they’re not being responsible for the deaths of all of these silkworms. So either way, you’re looking at a rather cruel, terribly unnatural process that’s also extremely wasteful when you think about all of the mulberry leaves that are used in order to create the silk, and just to manage the amount of waste that is going through the processes is quite staggering. And so it’s terribly inefficient, and it’s not really desirable to be boiling these creatures alive, either. On the other hand, were we to be able to produce spider silk synthetically, we might be able to eliminate the use of silkworms, because we’d be producing a silk just a soft, just as useful in textile production, but but also much stronger much less likely to tear. And so, a far superior product at a similar cost. And just like natural silk, except very easily one of the big differences between synthetic fabrics and natural fabrics is that natural fabrics tend to take on dye quite easily. So if you take a natural silk, it’s very easy to color it all sorts of bright beautiful colors, using less harmful dyes with less waste, and all that sort of thing. And you get the same effect with this synthetic spider silk, because although it is synthetic, it still has the natural molecular structure, and so it’s able to absorb those dyes more easily, which means less use of harsh artificial dyes, and just a less wasteful process in general. I’m really looking forward to what the result of this is going to be. I hope that we start seeing more products made from spider silk very soon. I would love to hear more about it if any of you know a bit more about what’s happening with Spiber and Bolt Threads, please let me know. Are you interested in stuff like this? Would you like to see what kind of fabrics we can make out of this new artificial fabric? Personally I’m very excited, because I would love to see, for example, high-end designers making things using this synthetic silk,l rather than making things out of silk, because you look today and practically every time you go to the store if you’re looking at a nicer item of clothing, frequently the lining will be made out of silk. If you look to designers to find even a scarf or anything, frequently they are also made out of silk, and personally I just don’t feel comfortable buying silk, because it’s such a waste. I feel that I could justify it if there was some sort of extremely important reason to be using silkworms, then I might be able to justify it – but there really isn’t. It’s not necessary, it’s simply for vanity. The lightweight nature of silk, its ability to absorb dye and produce bright colors is amazing. And it’s been an important part of human history. I would much rather see silk made synthetically, without the use of animals and just be able to see what we can do in a much more ethical, less wasteful way. Thanks so much for joining me! If you like this video, please give it a thumbs up, and subscribe so that you can see more videos just like this. And if you enjoyed it even more, please share with your friends. Let me know in the comments below what you think about this, and I will see you in my next video! Take care, bye.

25 Replies to “Artificial Spider Silk from Spiber & Bolt Threads Could Transform the Textile Industry”

  1. Caterpillars (and moths/butterflies) are often beautiful and always fascinating. They show some very 'clever' and interesting social behaviors. So it's kinda sad that your final point is the waste aspect (11:12) and not your empathy for this astonishing animals. You should have a look at the social behavior (and the beautiful colors!) of the genus Automeris, the disguise of the genus Psychidae or just Citheronia regalis. Caterpillars never fail to surprise me.

  2. I love how you do your own thing and don't follow what every other Vegan channel does. With that said….

    You ever see Day Of The Triffids? Great sci-fi movie from the 50s about carnivorous alien plants. In 2009 the BBC made somewhat of a sequel, scientists discovered Triffids produce an oil that we can use to fuel the planet and end our dependence on fossil fuels. So they create Triffid "farms" and everything is great! Until a major solar flare wipes out the power grid and the Triffids escape once again feeding on humanity….

    Not saying that could happen with spider farms but I'll start writing the script now 😀😍

  3. also I may be interested in this artificial silk. for instance only needing to buy socks once 👍. also the process must be environmentally friendly

  4. Fascinating video with good coverage. I have been following the whole cellular agriculture sector since Superheat hit the vegan YT world but learned a lot from the video. Ethically I think this concept is the best chance to be true Ahimsa (avihimsa in Pali) /no-kill silk.

  5. I love how informative your videos are!! I never even thought about this topic. GMO goats for spider silk?! I can understand why that idea failed 😂 I hope this idea gets picked up within the next few years. It sounds much more effective, innovative and sustainable! 😊

  6. That was a very well researched video. Most of your information was spot on in regards to the history of the use of spider silks and development of this new artificial spider silk which I have been following very closely. One thing you were off about, though: Spiber has not yet sold any Moon Parkas. They were targeting a limited run this winter at a price of around 120,000 yen (~$1,200 USD), but recently announced a delay in production that will push the release of these jackets into next year, likely next winter. This should be close to the time that Bolt Threads releases their textiles that they have collaborated with Patagonia to make.

    Spiber and Bolt Threads are not the only companies pursuing artificial spider silks, though. If you are looking for specifically vegan production methods, you could check out Spiber Technologies (http://www.spiber.se/) which is looking at medical applications for their bacteria-made silks and have a very similar name, but not relation to the Japanese Spiber (https://www.spiber.jp/en). AMSilk (https://www.amsilk.com/home/) is also looking at medical applications and cosmetics as well. Araknitek (http://araknitek.com/) seems to be focusing on a lot of different applications, from medical to textiles and even adhesives. They are using many different methods, including both transgenic silkworms and the transgenic goats you mentioned as well as transgenic alfalfa and E.coli, so you may need to be careful if you want to stay vegan with this company. Kraig Biocraft Laboratories (http://www.kraiglabs.com/) and Entogenetics (http://www.entogenetics.com/) are using transgenic silkworms exclusively to make their silks, so they would not be vegan, but they are also out there.

    The first company that used the transgenic goats was Nexia Biotechnologies which went out of business due to limited production. Those goats transferred to Araknitek that i mentioned earlier. Sometime around this time, some of these proteins were used to make a shirt and a scarf by fashion designer Sruli Recht (http://store.srulirecht.com/products/coppe-web-is-sr447) (http://store.srulirecht.com/products/an-emperors-new-tangling-is-sr438), though they are prohibitively expensive and don't look all that good to me.

    As i mentioned before, i like to follow the development of man-made spider silks very closely and keep up with what is going on with the companies. If you are interested, you can check out https://www.reddit.com/r/SpiderSilk/ where I post the latest information about these companies as it comes out. I also posted this video there as well since it was so well done.

  7. 10 billion bombyx mori killed for silk? How horrible! This sounds like a great new alternative, I really hope it works out! Interesting video topic, I never would have thought to look into this! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Do you know much about plastic based fibres? They are cheap and don't involve animals in production, but there's the lack of biodegradability and the fact that the tiny plastic fibres seem to be polluting our oceans. A video on that would be interesting from a vegan perspective.

  9. Thanks for the video. Glad that GMO goats are out of business :). I am looking forward for a non-violent spider silk, hope it will be affordable and be able to replace plastic/synthetic fibers like polyester that is harming and killing animals.

  10. actually, the spiders were collected from the wild, milked, and returned to the wild. they didn't keep them in cages. lol

  11. Silk worms would die anyway… better to have an alternative but it isn't that big of a deal.  Personally I would add limpet goethite and hagfish proteins to the spider silk recipe.  Also if you add the genes that diatoms use to make their shells the silicate deposits allow spider silk to act as a scaffold for growing bones in a bioreactor.  Humans could reinforce their skeletons a little at a time using scaffolds and customized molds.  Spider silk and milk proteins infused into human skin render it extremely bullet resistant.  Not bullet proof but very difficult to penetrate.  Wouldn't make you as durable as my design specifications but it would be a vast improvement on the base primate model humans are running right now ^_^Spider silk can also be used for flexible processors and brain machine interfaces so having a synthetic supply could help with that too.

  12. Nice video. However, I would like to point out that the silkworm, Bombyx mori, is the most highly domesticated insect and cannot survive by itself in nature – it is completely dependent on Homo sapiens to feed and protect it. Thus not rearing this species for silk would lead to its certain extinction – which would surely be a rather sad state of affairs…

  13. Thank you for sharing. It is very useful. I am very passionate about supporting the use and widespread of energy efficient materials such as synthetic spider silk.

  14. Thank you for this video I went vegan two months ago, and I got rid of a lot of my leather goods I didn't realize the damage it causes, I'm slowly getting rid of my clothes and shoes that are made of animals, some I will just wear out till they're done because I can't afford all new stuff but I will throw them out after they've been used by me. But I do feel guilty wearing it because of the damage. Eventually I will convert over to everything non-animal. Thank you for these very important videos I will be sharing this video to my friends. ❤️❤️❤️

  15. It's also amazing how your eyes are completely wide open, now what about car leather sits, leather couches, leather is everywhere in your car your closet etc.

  16. Finally a really good video about vegan innovation. Very information dense and well explained by Margaret. Thanks!

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