I think it’s crazy that the clothing industry accounts for 10% of all GHG. Every year, 150 million trees are cut down for fiber production. From production, creation, and transportation of clothing, the process is detrimental for the environment, and depletes resources. 97 billion cubic metres of water every year is required and creating factories deforests nature and harms the wildlife.
Biofabrication companies are creating sustainable clothing using cellular agriculture. Cellular agriculture is the production of animal-derived products and byproducts without using animals. In a food setting, we can create the same beef patty without harming cows. For fashion, we don’t need sheeps for wool or cows for leather. We only need to understand their DNA that produces those products.
This might sound crazy and this might be your reaction:
It was mine when I first learned about a new avenue of sustainable clothing.
Spider silk are protein fibers that are naturally made by spiders. The silk material enters the spinnerets and results in spider silk. 🕸
Spider silk is made of proteins called spidroins. 3 main amino acids in spider silk proteins are proline, alanine, and glycine. Because there are numerous types of spider silk, there are different types of amino acid arrangements. From research, scientists have found that alanine and glycine are a factor for strength and flexibility. Alanine amino acids form crystalline beta sheets while glycine sections form a more structured silk. Alanine plays a role in strength, and glycine increases flexibility of the silk.
But, why am I talking about spiders?
- Spiders silk is strong, flexible, and biodegradable.
Spider silk strength is > steel and kevlar (a material used for bullet-proof vests)
Spider silk flexibility is > than nylon
Spider silk is thinner < than a single strand of human hair
2. Spider silk has plenty of foundational amino acids, such as proline, alanine, and glycine.
Spiders are crucial to the ecosystem. Spiders are one of the most important invertebrate predators in terrestrial ecosystems. But we cannot farm spiders to obtain their silk because they are cannibalistic. Instead, we can clone their cells to produce the same spider silk.
Start up company, Spiber produces lab-grown spider silk proteins.
- Determine spider silk properties. What DNA in spiders results in certain proteins that create spider silk.
- Introduce the DNA code (“genetic blueprint”) into a microorganism.
All organisms have a genetic code that determines the organisms characteristics. Because all organisms have genetic instructions, organisms can understand the same genetic code. First, we need a double stranded DNA to clone. Cloning is replicating the genetic blueprint of an organism, so it has the same genetic makeup as the original organism.
We need to cut the protein- producing gene (like scissors cuts paper) and insert it into a plasmid of a cell. The plasmid is a circular piece of DNA that is outside of the chromosomes, where the cell duplicates.
To use an analogy, imagine a food platter.
Different DNA (cheese, fruits, and vegetables) combine to form recombinant DNA (an assortment of cheese).
Spiber experiments with different microorganisms to find which organism works best. We insert the DNA code/gene that produces proteins into the plasmid of a yeast cell. The plasmid is a circular piece of DNA that replicates indefinitely.
The process of engineering yeast is similar to creating milk without cows. For a more in-depth description, click here.
The differently sourced DNA is called recombinant DNA, which multiplies and produces more cells with the same genetic instructions to produce spider silk.
- Put the genetically engineered organisms into fermentation machines called bioreactor tanks, which mimic the environment of the spider (host animal) and are given nutrients to grow. Bioreactor tanks “feed” the cells sugars to encourage cell division and growth.
A drawback to the production are bioreactor tanks are built for smaller-scale productions; bioreactor tanks must be scaled-up for large scale production.
- Separate the powdery substance from proteins
- Make clothing!
For example, Spiber collaborated with Yuima Nakazato who is also creating sustainable clothing options.
Gene editing sustainable materials can also create fibers, nano-fibers, foams, gels, and more. Spiber is also creating skateboards and has partnered with other clothing brands, such as North Face, to create sustainable clothing.
Company, Bolt Threads is one of the biotech companies pioneering the future of fashion. Their products are divided into three main categories: mylo, microsilk, and b-silk proteins.
Mycelium is a fungus that supports wildlife by supplying nutrients to species and breaks down organic matter; it plays an imperative role in nature. Mycelium exists in soil, gives nutrients to plants, and wraps around river beds. And, this natural element can be just as useful in growing sustainable leather.
Mylo is a branch of Bolt Threads that synthetically grows mycelium to produce products, such as shoes and handbags. How?
The process starts with collecting mycelium cells to duplicate and grow in labs. The next step is growing these cells in dishes to proliferate and differentiate (grow and duplicate). After cell proliferation, we harvest the material and dye it to create fabric for clothes. Bolt Threads have partnered with clothing brands, such as Lululemmon and Stella Mccartney.
Spiders are vital to the ecosystem and to fashion, but we must find another way to create the same silk that spiders produce without spiders.
The process begins with analyzing specific proteins spiders have that enable them to produce spider silk. Using acellular agriculture, we synthetically grow DNA codes and mimic the “genetic blueprint” of a spider to produce the same proteins. After gene editing yeast to contain the same properties as the protein-producing gene in a spider, we put the engineered yeast cells into bioreactor tanks to ferment the cells and give the cells water and sugars to grow to produce biomasses of proteins. After, we need to separate the proteins from the remaining cells and sew them into fabrics.
B-silk protein is made through the same process as microsilk and is produced through fermentation and is biodegradable.
B-silk protein is partnered with Vegamour and Eighteen B, which have produced cosmetic products running from shampoo to skincare and makeup.
- Spiber engineers yeast cells to contain DNA segments from Spiders to produce the same spider silk that spider’s produce. Duplicating recombinant DNA enables more cells to contain the genetic blueprint to produce silk proteins.
- Bolt Threads’ is creating mylo, microsilk, and b-silk protein in-vitro. Leveraging natural substances, such as mycelium and protein-producing genes from spider and gell collagen, Bolt Threads is shaping a sustainable future of clothes.
A quick review:
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Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or want to talk about sustainable clothing, connect with me on LinkedIn.