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Soldiers May Wear Bulletproof Spider Silk In The Future

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Genetically modified silkworms could create a material that is lighter than silk but stronger than steel. (PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Genetically modified silkworms could create a material that is lighter than silk but stronger than steel. (PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The well dressed soldier of the future may be wearing bullet-proof material made from spider silk, reports Live Science.

A Lansing, Michigan based company has genetically engineered silk worms to produce spider silk that could one day be woven into light, protective garments.

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories CEO Kim Thompson tells Live Science it’s a natural fit. “Spider silk in nature has truly unique properties. If you think about a spider’s web, it’s designed by nature to intercept an airborne missile: a fly or another flying insect.”

The silk naturally stretches and absorbs the energy of the captured prey, he added. “If you do the mathematical calculations, the weight of the fly, its speed, and the size of the individual fiber you capture it in, the strength-to-weight ratio is off the scale,” Thompson said.

Spider silk is light and flexible, and is stronger by weight than high-grade steel

Scientists take a DNA sequence from a spider and chemically code it to insert the protein into a silk worm. At a certain point in the worm’s development, the DNA switches on and the worm produces spider silk.

One advantage to using silk worms is that they easily pass the spider DNA to the next generations.

The result, Thompson hopes, is a lightweight, flexible material that is stronger than Kevlar.

Kraig is already trying to identify what weaves could serve that purpose, with the ultimate goal of looking at the ballistic market.

But first, the company plans to first market to the consumer silk market, showcasing underwear and other garments where stronger silk makes the material less likely to tear.

The stronger silk could be available as soon as next year.

Eventually Kraig hopes to outfit soldiers with modified spider silk. “There is no question we have our eye on the potential for ballistic projection,” Thompson said. “It’s a huge market, and a sexy market.”

While Thompson didn’t know when the military might start using bullet-resistant garments, he said a natural first step would be to provide undergarments for the military made from material that is stronger and tougher than silk.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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