Equipment for cultivating bacteria for spider silk (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)
Therefore, the biotechnology for rewriting the “blueprints” of proteins, which are the basis of DNA in all living creatures, was used this time to develop QMONOS, aiming to make a living organism other than a spider to produce the same proteins as found in spider silk. Bacteria were chosen in place of the spider. Through bacterial cultivation, bacteria can be grown to large quantities in a short amount of time. In fact, a bacterium with its blueprint altered to become capable of producing spider silk would continue multiplying to 100 million bacteria within half a day in test equipment.
The spider silk proteins extracted from these bacteria are first dissolved and then made into thread in the same way as other synthetic fibers. Previously, there was a problem that highly poisonous and dangerous chemicals had to be used to dissolve the spider silk; however, a safe chemical was discovered during the development of QMONOS.
|Fine protein powder extracted from the bacteria (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)||
Machines spinning the finished spider silk (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)
Another major feature of QMONOS is that it can be dyed by mixing in color during the process of powdering and dissolving the proteins. The resultant threads and fibers do not need to be dyed again at a later part of the process.
Other applications such as artificial blood vessels
Colored spider silk (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)
To mass produce the new material QMONOS, a facility capable of producing 100 kg per month will be constructed in Yamagata prefecture in near future. The plan is to raise monthly output to 10 ton by 2015.
Once the mass production technology advances and the manufacturing costs fall, the synthetic spider silk will be used for a whole host of purposes besides merely using it t as fiber for clothing. It is also considered possible to make even lighter and stronger aircraft fuselages and automotive parts by mixing the spider silk with carbon fiber and other materials and to manufacture artificial blood vessels and surgical thread by using this light, soft, and durable material. It could also be used for material in space suits by utilizing its strong resistance to UV.
In today’s world where manufacturing products such as plastics that use oil as a raw material is depleting resources and causing global warming, the use of biotechnology to develop new materials is attracting great attention worldwide.