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THE COCOON STRIKES BACK:
Innovative Products Could Revive a Dying Industry
November 17, 2000
Seiren Co., a top dyer of filament fibers, manufactures a line of cosmetics using cocoon extract. Observing that the hands of workers who manually process silk are smooth despite long hours of exposure to water, the firm embarked on joint research with Hiroshima University and found sericin, another silk protein, to be responsible for the phenomenon. In addition to cosmetics, Seiren has blended the protein into clothing fibers. The sericin-imbued fibers, which are gentle to atopic and otherwise sensitive skin, are now used by major lingerie makers. Products utilizing sericin rang up 350 million yen (3.2 million dollars) during fiscal 1997 (April 1997 to March 1998), and the sales total is expected to jump to 1.2 billion yen (10.9 million dollars) in fiscal 2000.
Other silk-related products on the market include candy containing silk fibers--offered as a health food--and shampoo and conditioner enriched with silk protein.
In 1997 the National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, with the cooperation of major contact lens maker Seed Co., succeeded in developing the basic technology for applying silk protein to the production of soft contact lenses. According to the institute, contact lenses made with silk protein are friendlier to the eyes than those made with synthetic materials.
Inspired by the ability of silkworms to produce large amounts of protein in the form of silk, the institute is also studying the possibility of having them produce pharmaceutical ingredients. By inserting the genes of substances beneficial to human health in silkworm chromosomes, it hopes to breed "cocoon factories."
Saving a Dwindling Industry
In April 2000 the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Ministry launched an investigative committee on silk and new materials, comprising scholars and representatives of private firms. Rather than aiming to compete with imports, the committee is working to develop new, value-added materials and products and to create new product lines.
Traditional clients of the silk industry, such as kimono textile makers, worry that if domestic production of silk stops altogether, countries exporting the material to Japan will raise their prices. Maintaining a certain level of domestic production is a question of life and death for such companies. The emergence of various innovative uses of silk, which boosts demand, could be a ray of hope for all businesses in silk-related fields.
Copyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.