Extolling the many virtues of spider silk is something of a trend these days, as the fine yet remarkably hardy material continues to best even the strongest synthetic materials (a good spider silk weave is supposedly four times stronger than Kevlar). But this latest application makes transgenic, spider silk-producing goats seem simple by comparison: A bioengineered skin so tough that it stops a speeding bullet from penetrating.
To be perfectly fair up front, the bullet in the first clip in the video below is moving at half speed. Repeated with a round moving at a full 1,080 feet per second, the skin gives way. But both half-speed and full-speed tests were also conducted with real human skin and human skin augmented with regular silkworm silk, as well as with piglet skin. In all cases, the bullet won out. The only exception was the bioengineered spider silk tissue.
Which begs the question: Is it possible to someday augment human skin to make it tougher--possibly even bulletproof? Probably not, and even if so that certainly wouldn’t make the human body impervious to the other factors involved in being struck by a bullet (like the sheer bone-breaking, potentially heart-stopping impact).
Regardless, chalk it up as another potential application for nature’s toughest fiber, one that’s getting closer and closer to mass-production and integration into a range of materials that need strengthening.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.