Monday, January 30, 2012

Spider Silk Skin can Stop a bullet

Dutch artist Jalila Essaïdi and cell biologist Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri have blended spider silk with human skin to produce material that is three times stronger than kevlar.

In the first clip, the bioengineered skin cushions a bullet fired at half speed. But its resistance has its limits: when shot at a full speed of 329 m/s, the bullet pierces the material and travels through it. The same tests were also performed with piglet skin, human skin and human skin fused with regular silkworm silk, which were all penetrated by bullets of both speeds.

An international team worked together to create the new material. First, transgenic goats and silkworms equipped to produce spider-silk proteins spun out the raw material at the synthetic biology lab at Utah State University. The cocoons were then shipped to South Korea, where they were reeled into thread, before being woven into fabric in Germany. The modified silk was then wedged between bioengineered skin cells developed by biochemist Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. After five weeks of incubation, the hybrid skin was ready for target practice.

In addition to exploring the material artistically, Essaïdi is also looking into practical uses, such as skin transplants. Spider silk is already being developed by other teams for high-tech applications, which range from artificial corneas to brain implants.

For more about spider silk spin-offs, check out our full-length feature: "Stretching spider silk to its high-tech limits". Or you might also like to find out about the science behind a lavish golden spider-silk cape, currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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