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  • Bulletproof skin with spider silk

    - Dutch artist Jalila Essaïdi used U.S. research to create bulletproof skin from human skin cells and spider silk fibers won from worms and goats. Creating a superman, though, is not part of the agenda.

    Dutch bio-artist, Jalila Essaïdi, created bulletproof skin with the help of U.S. researcher Randy Lewis who works at Utah State University. Lewis' research focuses on the design of material that may replace skin, e.g. quickening the healing process after critical surgery.

    Milking spider silk

    Using nature's very own material to create resistant skin seems most promising. Spider webs for instance are five times more resistant than steel. To have spider silk in sufficient supply, Lewis and his team designed a commercially viable method to harvest these fibers.

    The process involves that goats are genetically altered with spider DNA and subsequently milked to extract proteins that can be turned into spider silk. A similar procedure is possible by altering silkworm genes which then produce the much stronger spider fibers.

    Jalila Essaïdi who studied arts and education at Alliantie Kunsten Fontys Zuyd and Leiden University became aware of Lewis' research and contacted him to conduct an experiment. Her plan was to create a skin made up of human skin cells and Lewis' silkworm spider silk to see whether this mixture could resist a bullet.

    0.22 caliber against human spider skin

    In a Youtube video, Essaïdi demonstrates how she fired a 0.22 caliber rifle at her silk-skin lattice. At regular speed, the bullet went both through the skin woven with regular silkworm fibers and the enhanced spider silk fibers.

    At reduced speeds, however, the spider silk mix proved much stronger by repelling the bullet while its silkworm counterpart bursted. In her blog, Essaïdi writes that her goal was to "explore the social, political, ethical and cultural issues surrounding safety in a world with access to new biotechnologies."

    Lewis who created the spider fibers with the help of transgenic silkworms remained sceptical that there was "a tremendous application [of Essaïdi's experiments] at the moment. Creating a bulletproof superman is not part of his agenda. Rather, he will look into using spider silk from goats to create skin for surgical purposes.