Spider silk, a sticky protein combination that creates flexible threads with the tensile strength of steel, is a natural substance fascinating to material scientists, who have investigated possible applications in everything from ballistic protection to medical devices. The problem is that spiders don’t spin commercial quantities of fiber. Silkworms do, and EntoGenetics Inc. (EGI), a Charlotte, N.C., biotechnology firm partnering with North Carolina State University, used cross-species genetics to create a super-spinning silkworm, Bombyx mori. EGI launched its first business-to-business transaction in December, selling Biomimetic Spider Silk (BSS) to the Super-Sensitive Musical String Co., Sarasota, Fla., for use in high-performance violin strings.
“No, our silkworms do not have eight legs or fangs,” says Dr. David Brigham, founder and CEO of EGI. “But we do get them to spin their cocoons with the select qualities of spider silk and it can be done in mass quantity.” Brigham strung his own violin with BSS fiber as an experiment and noted the softer, more profound timbre of the sound. A concert violinist gave Brigham the thumbs-up shortly after playing on the spider silk strings, and a new application was born. EGI offers BSS engineered for various applications, including OCTA™ (musical strings), FIGHTERweb™ (ballistic and protective gear), GossaMerge™ and Wisper™ (performance and fashion fabrics), REgener8™ (life sciences) and REcombin8™ (for composite applications).