Monday, September 5, 2011

How to Make "Bullet Proof" Skin From Spider Silk

Image credit:Luc Viatour

Working in collaboration with researchers from the Forensic Genomics Consortium Netherlands, dutch artist Jalila Essaidi's managed to grow human skin cells infused with genetically engineered spider silk, that can stop a .22 calibre bullet when fired at reduced speeds.

Named 2.6g 329m/s, after the maximum weight and velocity of a .22 calibre Long Rifle bullet from which a Type 1 bulletproof vest is meant to protect you; the skin was created by first acquiring the protein which makes the spider silk itself -which is several times stronger than steel- from the milk of goats genetically modified to produce the protein in their milk. Once extracted, the protein was then woven into a lattice work of fibers, which was in turn sandwiched between two layers of otherwise normal human skin cells grown on top of the silk matrix.

As for the goats themselves -since I'm sure you're curious- they were created using a method developed by researcher Randy Lewis and his team from Utah State University, in which the gene responsible for producing the silk is extracted from the spiders which would naturally create the substance, and ultimately inserted into a goat's egg.

While Essaidi's final product was ultimately unable to reach the minimum standard for modern bullet proof vests by stopping a .22 cal riffle bullet shot at normal speed, and the notion that we might someday replace the keratin in our skin with this silk using the same methods as those used to create the modified goats, though entirely plausible, is at best, a distant dream. In the short term, Lewis asserts that the most exciting part about Jalila's experiment is that they were able to grow the skin cells on top of the fibers in the first place, and the potential applications for the skin today in skin grafts and other treatments.



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