Because it’s one of the world’s stretchiest and strongest materials, spider silk has long been considered the holy grail of textiles. If we could figure out a way to mass produce it, we could make some of the strongest ropes and farbrics the world has ever seen. The only hangup is that, so far, no one has been able to successfully harvest real spider silk — mainly because spiders are a bit competitive and will eat their rivals to stay dominant.
That’s where a Japan-based biotech firm Spiber comes in. The company has been successful in creating a manufacturing process that allows it to mass produce synthetic versions of spider silk while still keeping its attractive properties. North Face took notice of Spiber’s work, and the two companies recently collaborated on a new jacket called the “Moon Parka,” a prototype of which is now being shown at events across Japan.
Spiber uses microbes to produce the synthetic silk for the jacket. The microbes produce special proteins, which Spiber then purifies until they becomes a powder. From there, the powder is squeezed through syringes to be spun into threads, according to Popular Science.
A total of 656 different microbe variations help to process and produce the final textile, which Spiber has dubbed Qmonos — the Japanese for spider web. By using microbes to produce Qmonos, Spiber is also addressing another chief complaint of the textile industry: its notorious pollution problem. With a microbe-centric production process, the company believes it can avoid using toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment.
The Moon Parka is only the beginning, though. About 250 different thread types of Qmonos will be available when the textile becomes commercially available next year, Spiber says. An exact date for the release of the jacket is not yet known, but it’s expected to come out some time in 2016.