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Scientist wants to make ‘bulletproof people’ using spider silk

August 17, 2011

dvice.com

Scientist wants to make 'bulletproof people' using spider silk

Here’s a story straight out of science fiction: the Netherlands’ Jalila Essaidi is exploring ways to develop bulletproof skin for humans, and is turning to the milk from genetically modified “spider goats” to do it. Yep!

The project is called “2.6g 329m/s,” as 2.6 grams and 326 meters a second are “the maximum weight and velocity of a .22 calibre Long Rifle bullet from which a Type 1 bulletproof vest should protect you,” according to Essaidi. Essaidi isn’t looking to create a better bulletproof vest, however. Her prototype, pictured above, is a wafer formed by sandwiching a spider silk matrix between two layers of human tissue.

So, where do those genetically modified goats come in? Well, spider silk isn’t the easiest substance to harvest, but it has a ton of uses: creating better artificial bits for the human body and improving air bags, for instance. Spiders make it pretty hard to collect it in large quantities. Even if you can get a bunch of the silk-spinning arachnids together, they’re pretty picky about who they share a space with and quite often just slaughter one another.

To get around that, last year a team at the University of Wyoming experimented with introducing the “spiders’ dragline silk gene into goats in such a way that the goats would only make the protein in their milk.” Researchers can then extract the protein from the milk and — voilà! — they have useable spider silk, and in larger quantities than from a few temperamental creepy crawlies.

Essaidi’s bulletproof human project is still very much in the conceptual phases, and her prototype isn’t completely stopping bullets all the time, but it’s definitely an alluring thought. Essaidi’s plans are ultimately much more grand, too — she’d like to replace the keratin in our skin with spider silk, so that our bodies (and not some outer layer we’re wearing) could stop a speeding bullet.

Jalila Essaidi, via io9 and PhysOrg

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