Scientists have recently discovered a way to gene-edit bacteria in order to make bullet-proof spider silk that could even help in making next-generation space suits.
It is already known that spider silk is way more strong than steel, but farming spiders is really inefficient. Thus, researchers have found a way to mass produce spider silk that can lead to super-strong fabrics and even next-gen space suits.
“In nature, there are a lot of protein-based materials that have amazing mechanical properties, but the supply of these materials is very often limited,” lead researcher Fuzhong Zhang said. “My lab is interested in engineering microbes so that we can not only produce these materials, but make them even better.”
In order to make it, the team chopped up the spider silk genes into smaller pieces that re-assembled once they were integrated into the bacterial gene through gene-editing.
Through this method, the scientists managed to manufacture two grams of spider silk just as strong, tough and stretchable as actual spider silk for each liter of gene-edited bacteria.
Though the manufactured spider silk was not enough for an unsettling amount of bacteria, it still is a great improvement over other attempts to mass produce silk.
If the spider silk is produced in adequate quantities, it could be used in various applications including bullet-proof fabric and surgical sutures. Also, the bacterial protein production system could be helpful during space missions.
“NASA is one of our funders, and they are interested in bioproduction,” Zhang mentioned. “They’re currently developing technologies in which they can convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates that could be used as food for the microbes that we’re engineering. That way, astronauts could produce these protein-based materials in space without bringing a large amount of feedstocks.”