Military uniforms have been made from a variety of fabrics over the years: Cotton, wool, polyester blends… all have had their turn as what uniforms are made of. Now a new spin on one of the oldest fabrics could come into play.
That fabric, of course, is silk, which first entered the scene in China almost four millennia ago. Only this isn't the silk that is used for the high-fashion dresses you see on the red carpet. That is from silkworms. According to a report from Marketplace.org, this silk is from spiders.
A female spider wraps her prey in silk. (Wikimedia Commons)
Okay, before you get carried away – no, this is not quite like the Spider-Man suits. The key, though is that the spider silk is strong. It has to be. Spider silk makes webs, which spiders usually use to catch food.
There's just one problem. You need a lot of spiders to make silk, and spider's just don't get along with each other. We're not talking things that can be worked out. Face it, when the critters you are counting on to produce material try to eat each other, productivity's gonna be taking a nosedive. That doesn't get the uniforms made.
A small piece of artificial spider silk produced in a lab. (Wikimedia Commons)
So, the answer has been to genetically engineer silkworms to produce spider silk. This is not the only method in operation. Michigan State University researchers have figured out how to make a silk-like product from the deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, of spiders, and DNA sequencing is becoming much cheaper than it was in the past.
Either way, the material that is produced will have far more applications than the Kevlar used in the uniforms of present day. The spider silk could also be used to make protective underwear as well as improved body armor. That's good news for the troops.