Bulletproof skin with spider silk

Nieuws | de redactie
23 augustus 2011 | 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 withthe help of U.S. researcher Randy Lewis who works at Utah StateUniversity. Lewis’ research focuses on the design of material thatmay replace skin, e.g. quickening the healing process aftercritical surgery.

Milking spider silk

Using nature’s very own material to create resistant skin seemsmost promising. Spider webs for instance are five times moreresistant than steel. To have spider silk in sufficient supply,Lewis and his team designed a commercially viable method to harvestthese fibers.

The process involves that goats are genetically altered withspider DNA and subsequently milked to extract proteins that can beturned into spider silk. A similar procedure is possible byaltering silkworm genes which then produce the much stronger spiderfibers.

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

0.22 caliber against human spider skin

In a Youtube video, Essaïdi demonstrates how shefired a 0.22 caliber rifle at her silk-skin lattice. At regularspeed, the bullet went both through the skin woven with regularsilkworm fibers and the enhanced spider silk fibers.

At reduced speeds, however, the spider silk mix proved muchstronger by repelling the bullet while its silkworm counterpartbursted. In her blog, Essaïdi writes that her goal was to”explore the social, political, ethical and cultural issuessurrounding safety in a world with access to newbiotechnologies.”

Lewis who created the spider fibers with the help of transgenicsilkworms remained sceptical that there was “a tremendousapplication [of Essaïdi’s experiments] at the moment. Creating abulletproof superman is not part of his agenda. Rather, he willlook into using spider silk from goats to create skin for surgicalpurposes.

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