Bolt Threads: the supermaterial made from spider silk

Innovations in synthetic biology, architecture, nanotechnology, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence are beginning to intertwine; an exciting time in exponential innovation. When applied to the built environment, interdisciplinary research is vital for solving construction and material issues to create superior environments.

The advent of synthetic biology has paved the way for hacking natural life forms, enabling designers to produce materials that are not only constructed quicker but often have superior qualities to the material than when it's constructed naturally.

Synthetic biology has gone further than simply creating materials that imitate natural products and processes, and instead, scientists are directly partnering natural entities into their design process.

Biological concrete and myelin mushroom bricks, for example, illustrate the benefit of harnessing biological algorithms to create ‘living materials’ that create less pollution than the construction and maintenance of synthetic materials.

Although the implications for biotechnological research are ongoing for architecture, the textile industry is paving the way for transforming materials, generating them at a greater quantity and at a much quicker rate.

A material steeped in history, silk is produced by silkworms and is known for its durability and softness. Unconventional in comparison to silkworm silk, spiders also produce a silk-like substance- a protein spun by the creatures that has exceptional biological qualities. Spiders produce these silk-like fibres at room temperature, using water as a solvent.

Innovations in biotechnological research have developed a technology which replicates the production of spider silk producing a synthetic textile that has the same advantages as natural spider silk but generated at a quicker rate and larger quantity.

California-based company Bolt Threads has spent over seven years studying the proteins found in spider silk via placing spider genetics (that enable the spider to produce silk), into yeast.

Founded by Dan Widmaier and David Breslauer in 2009, Bolt Threads produces large amounts of spider silk proteins via fermentation. Once the fermented silk protein is spun, the fibre is knitted and weaved into a silky material. This silk, however, is biologically superior to natural spider silk- it possesses a steel-like strength and is superior in durability and elasticity.

This lab-constructed material has significant implications in the textile industry, and recently, Bolt Threads partnered with Stella McCartney- a fashion company championing the connections between technological innovation and sustainability.

Although research is still in development regarding integrating synthetic biology software into the design of the built environment, as Bolt Thread shows, future construction and design materials with superior biologicall qualities are progressively on the horizon.

All images credits: Bolt Threads



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