An American biotechnology company is using genetically engineered silkworms to produce exceedingly strong spider silk. The company is going to use this to make flexible bulletproof vests.
At least, that is the aim of the American Department of Defense's investment in Kraig Biocraft Technologies, which is specialised in the production of fibres from genetically engineered spider silk. Spider silk is extremely strong and, at the same time, very flexible. It is not easy to produce however, as spiders have a tendency to eat each other when they are put together in large numbers. This makes it difficult to produce spider silk on a large scale on spider farms.
Silkworms, on the other hand, have been kept as domesticated insects for the production of silk for centuries. The biotechnology company has engineered the genetic code of the silkworms in such a way that they can produce much stronger threads than normal. Tests show that new silk threads have a tensile strength of up to 1.79 gigapascals, while the material is nearly twice as flexible as the spider silk the company is currently using in its production process.
The Defense Department is mainly interested in the possibilities of making bulletproof clothes. At the moment, bulletproof vests are largely made from synthetic fibres such as Kevlar and Aramid. Although they provide effective protection against bullets, they are uncomfortable to wear because of their thickness and rigidity.