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Scientists Engineer Spider Silk for Performance Apparel

Tracey Greenstein

“All natural” just got a bit more interesting. Companies Polartec, provider of sustainable textile solutions, and Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, a biotechnology company centered on the development and commercialization of spider silk, said they will bring its recombinant spider silk materials to serve the global market for high-performance textiles and apparel. Its technology was initially developed for specialized military applications, the companies said.

The scalability and cost-effective production of spider silk represent a “holy grail of material science,” as the fiber is praised for its unique characteristics, such as extraordinary strength and natural sustainability; it is fully renewable, biodegradable and biocompatible. And its properties are well-received for the performance market: Spider silk is thin, lightweight, flexible and displays “strength-to-weight ratios more comparable to aramid fibers than other current performance fibers,” according to the firms. For the apparel market, the companies noted that “the possibilities of recombinant spider silks are particularly exciting, realizing unprecedented combinations of physical properties such as luxurious feel and breathable comfort with top durability.” Spider silk is one of the strongest natural fibers, they added.

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And Kraig owns the exclusive right to use patented spider silk gene sequences in silkworms, which is the first way to mass produce these fibers cost-effectively and responsibly, the companies said, noting that spiders cannot be raised in colonies and its competitors commonly rely on genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to make silk, a costly process that produces high levels of carbon dioxide.

“Teaming with an industry leader such as Polartec is a real endorsement of our proprietary approach to unlocking the potential of commercially produced spider silk,” said Kim Thompson, Kraig Laboratories founder and chief executive officer. “Kraig believes that spider silk, with its superior mechanical characteristics, has the potential to surpass the current generation of high-performance fibers.”

Gary Smith, ceo, Polartec, added that the project “combines two of our most important innovation missions: providing best-in-class textiles to our nation’s military personnel, and our investment in a fully biodegradable product line. Our partnership with Kraig has the potential to be as revolutionary as when we created the first performance fabrics made from post-consumer recycled plastics in 1993.”

Also new on the sustainability front, Polartec recently announced its Polartec Eco-Engineering commitment to use 100 percent biodegradable and recycled materials across its entire product line; the collaboration is through a separate partnership with Unifi and CiCLO.

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