Ten years from now, you might be on patrol with new super lightweight body armor. If you feel something tingling, cool it – you aren’t Spider-Man, but your vest might be made from spider silk – and you probably just need to drink more water. The latest armor under consideration by the U.S. Army isn’t a new kind of porcelain or chemical composition over kevlar. It’s spider stuff.
Making clothing from spider stuff isn’t necessarily new, but mass-producing it might be. The photo above is of a vest made of silk from the Golden Orb Spider, native to Madagascar. It took the designers eight years and a million spiders to make the vest, but the designers of the new body armor aren’t going for anything so intricate.
Ballistic spider silk panels.
Spider silk is a protein-rich liquid that dries into a solid filament that can vary in composition depending on what the spider is doing with the web, such as weaving a web for food or creating an egg sac. It’s flexible, able to stretch well beyond its original length, stronger than steel, and most importantly, can create a mesh able to stop a bullet. But until recently, no one has been able to create enough of the stuff to actually make and test viable options for stopping bullets.
Researchers from Utah State University were able to program the DNA of silkworms to integrate spider proteins into their own silk. Silkworms even spin the silk into threads on their own. The result is twice as strong and elastic as silkworm silk and can be created on an industrial scale. The result was able to stop a slow-moving .22-caliber round with only four layers. Standard Kevlar armor uses 33 layers.
A bullet can penetrate 29 layers of kevlar.
In 2018 Kraig Biocraft Laboratories announced it was creating panels like those shown above in large quantities for the United States Army. The fabric, called “Dragon Silk,” was also created without using entire colonies of spiders, who were more likely to eat one another than live in peace and create fabric. Kraig Biocraft created silkworms similar to those created at Utah State, using patented genetic proteins. Beyond standard body armor, the company may be the first to create real, popular protection for the groin area.
“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” stated Jon Rice, COO. “For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”