What if your skin could resist a speeding bullet? Now a new futuristic tissue designed by artist Jalila Essaïdi, which reinforces human skin cells with spider silk, can stop a whizzing projectile without being pierced. Although its threads may look fragile, a spider-silk weave is four times stronger than Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests.
Video demonstration shows that the bioengineered skin cushions a bullet fired at half speed. But its resistance has its limits: when shot at a full speed of 329 m/s, the bullet pierces the material and travels through it. The same tests were also performed with piglet skin, human skin and human skin fused with regular silkworm silk, which were all penetrated by bullets of both speeds.
An international team worked together to create the new material. First, transgenic goats and silkworms equipped to produce spider-silk proteins spun out the raw material in the synthetic biology lab at Utah State University. The cocoons were then shipped to South Korea, where they were reeled into thread, before being woven into fabric in Germany. The modified silk was then wedged between bioengineered skin cells developed by biochemist Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. After five weeks of incubation, the hybrid skin was ready for target practice.
In addition to exploring the material artistically, Essaïdi is also looking into practical uses, such as skin transplants. Spider silk is already being developed by other teams for high-tech applications, which range from artificial corneas to brain implants.