12 Juni 2015

Spider silk company Bolt Threads secures $40m

A new biotechnology company inspired by spiders is aiming to create high-performance textiles out of engineered silk

The company, Bolt Threads, has announced it has received $40 million of new funding to enable further research and the commercialisation of its Engineered Silk Technology.

 Spider strength

Insects and spiders have the ability to produce natural silk fibres, which have incredible high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness. Bolt Threads has studied real spider’s silk in order to understand the relationship between the spider’s DNA and the characteristics of the fibres they make. The team of scientists are developing new technology to replicate this silk production sustainably on a very large scale.

The company is studying these natural silk proteins to find out what gives them their unique properties and recreating them through synthetic engineering. By adding genes into yeast, the team at Bolt Threads are able to produce the silk protein in large quantities through fermentation before spinning it into fibres. The genetically-modified yeast produces the silk protein in a liquid form during fermentation (much like the beer-making process). After processing the liquid silk protein can be turned into fibre through wet-spinning, and these fibres can then be knitted or woven into fabrics and clothes.

The company’s process enables the silk fibres to be optimised for specific purposes, such as strength, elasticicity or softness. This ability to engineer the fibres means they can be used for creating “limitless” new and innovative products with superior comfort and performance.

Transforming the textile industry

The company has received funding from Foundation Capital, Formation 8, and Founders Fund, and is based in Emeryville, California. It uses sustainable feedstock grown in the Midwest for production and is also collaborating with textile manufacturers in North Carolina to commercially scale production.

Steve Vassallo, general partner at Foundation Capital said: “Bolt Threads is uniquely positioned to commercialize technology that people have dreamt about for decades. They have developed a way to make Engineered Silk fibers at a commercial scale, at a cost that makes it viable for widespread use in consumer products – something no one else has done.”

He added: “I couldn’t be more excited about the potential for Bolt Threads’ Engineered Silk to transform the textile industry.”

Bolt Threads CEO Dan Widmaier said: “We started Bolt Threads based on our fascination with the properties of spider silk, particularly how to use the elegant solutions found in nature to create something even better. Our technology combines biology and computational methods to create performance fibers with carefully crafted properties. We’re very excited to sustainably develop the next generation of performance fabrics that will transform what we wear and how we live.”

Dr Adrian Higson, NNFCC’s Lead Consultant on Biobased Products said: “Bolt Threads are demonstrating the breadth of scope for using synthetic biology to engineer new biological process, allowing the production of novel products from pharmaceuticals to food ingredients, detergents, fuels and textiles. These are products that will touch everybody’s daily life.”

Source: National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Material, press release, 2015-06-10.

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