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Bio-Silk Makers Take Big Steps Forward

Two leading material innovation firms are attempting to hack the process of producing silk using advanced technology and bio-engineering.

Kraig Biocraft

On Thursday, Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, Inc., which develops fibers made from spider silk, announced that it was filing two new applications to bolster its existing patents on gene editing technologies made public in 2020.

Earlier this year, the material innovator received its first small shipment of bio-silk from its Vietnamese subsidiary, Prodigy Textiles. Kraig noted at the time that it had been fielding requests from several producers for sports apparel, industrial textiles, first responder supplies and medical products, and that it was hoping to scale production to meet demand. However, like virtually every player with operations in Vietnam, Kraig has run into some production snags in the critical sourcing country.

The tech covered by the new patents expands the company’s genetic engineering systems for complex and diverse production of nearly pure spider silk, Kraig said. The first patent allows for the creation of silks that incorporate “multiple sets of mechanical and chemical properties that cannot be created by conventional gene editing means,” and was created in order to produce recombinant spider silk beyond the scale and complexity seen in nature or in existing labs.

Meanwhile, the second patent will bolster the company’s advancements in gene editing “beyond the traditional heavy chain fibroin component of silk,” Kraig said. The new R&D specialty will allow the bio-material firm to investigate the production of complementary proteins, and could help to advance its program for transgenic silkworms in a cost-effective and sustainable manner, it said.

Both patents were filed under the Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) process, and utility patents were also filed in the U.S.

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“Our research team continues to impress, bring new and innovative ideas to transcend what others may see as a technological limitation,” Kraig’s chief operating officer Jon Rice said in a statement. “The portfolio of IP that our team is building, together with the resulting silk technologies it has produced, leaves me very optimistic for the future of Kraig Labs, our spider silk technologies, and beyond.”

Bolt Threads

Kraig Biocraft Labs is not the only innovator seeking to advance the production of silk or silk-like materials. Thursday also saw biotech-enabled materials firm Bolt Threads announce a new partnership with cell programming platform Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc., with the aim of improving the sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness of its synthetic B-Silk protein manufacturing process.

Bolt Threads has spent almost a decade working in tandem with apparel brands like Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Adidas as well as prominent fashion firms like Kering to develop synthetic bio alternatives to materials like leather. The company is responsible for the development of Mylo, a mycelium leather alternative, which Lululemon crafted into accessories this spring. In late 2020, Bolt Threads opened an office in the Netherlands to scale production for the fungi-based material and better serve the European luxury market.

The company’s B-Silk protein, inspired by organic spider silk’s strength and elasticity, is made with a lab-grown compound, and has been used in beauty products like Vegamour’s lash and hair care line as a replacement for silicone.

B-Silk protein provides the softness and durability of natural silk, Bolt Threads said.
B-Silk protein provides the softness and durability of natural silk, Bolt Threads said. Bolt Threads

“Ginkgo’s expertise in engineering biology will enable us to accelerate our work transforming the clean beauty and personal care industries with new, sustainable ingredients that have been previously inaccessible to consumers,” David Breslauer, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Bolt Threads, said of the new partnership. “B-silk protein has the potential to bring new performance properties to everyday products while utilizing truly sustainable production processes at scale.”

Firms across industries like food, cosmetics and medicine have relied upon Ginkgo Bioworks’ proprietary cell programming platform to bio-hack the process of creating the ingredients for these products using organic and renewable resources. Founder and CEO Jason Kelly said the company was intent on supporting innovation in the beauty and personal care space through the collaboration with Bolt Threads. “We believe in the power of biology to transform every industry that produces physical goods and have built our platform to enable innovators like Bolt Threads to bring their vision to life.”