With new silk-producing technology, Japanese biotech startup does what a spider can

With new silk-producing technology, Japanese biotech startup does what a spider can

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This beautiful blue dress is no ordinary dress. You’d never guess just by looking at it, but it’s made of synthetic spider silk. A Japanese biotechnology startup called Spiber recently announced that it has succesfully developed the technology to mass-produce spider silk, which they call Qmonos (‘kumonosu’ means ‘spider web’ in Japanese).

According to the company, Qmonos is four times tougher than steel (of the same dimensions), and more elastic than nylon. The material is also heat resistant, up to 300 degrees celcius. The company says that there are many research groups all over the world working to commercialize synthetic spider silk, but they are the first to accomplish this goal.

After through research on the gene sequencing of spider silk, the company implanted altered spider genes into microorganisms. Compared to their first successful production, they can now produce 2,500 times more spider silk than before. Spiber hopes to implement Qmonos technology into everything from clothing to cars.

Kazuhide Sekiyama, the CEO of Spiber (and also a graduate student at Keio University), recently gave a speech at TEDxTokyo where he talks about how he and his teammates first came up with the idea while they were out drinking. He notes:

Chemical fiber is used in almost everything that surrounds us and it supports our lives. But what if our oil supply was used up one day and we lose the resources to create fiber? We thought that It would be a true innovation if we could invent spider silk with as much as or even better capability than chemical fiber. Such spider silk could be implemented in many products and would change the world.

Spiber has taken the first step towards making this a reality. The company will launch a pilot research plant sometime this year in cooperation with auto-parts manufacturer Kojima Industries. The goal is to produce over 100 kilograms of Qmonos spider silk a month.