Hey everyone, welcome back to Bionic Bug podcast! You’re listening to episode 18. This is your host Natasha Bajema, fiction author, futurist, and national security expert. I’m recording this episode on August 19, 2018.
First off, I have a brief personal update. I got my manuscript back from my editor for Project Gecko and am working through edits. I expect it will be available as an ebook on Kobo in September. Stay tuned.
Let’s talk tech:
- One emerging technology topic that fascinates me is the use of nanotechnology and synthetic biology to create new materials that do amazing things. In many ways, the science fiction of D.C. Comics superheros and Marvel’s Avengers is becoming science reality. This is a theme that I address in Project Gecko where the Pentagon is seeking to leverage the capabilities offered by these new materials for its Next Generation Battle Suit.
- The first two headlines for this week are about spider silk. Yes, the same stuff Spiderman uses to swing from building to building.
- “Move over, Spider-Man! Spider silk can be used to build armor and repair nerves” on July 28 at digital trends.com
- “Scientists Just Created Silkworms That Spin Super-Strong Spider Silk” on August 8 at sciencealert.com
- What is spider silk?
- It is a protein produced by spiders to create their webs and draglines.
- Textiles made from spider silk are lighter and tougher than Kevlar, also extremely flexible but do not melt like nylon.
- Spider silk an be used for body armor, sutures, skin grafts. Scientists think spider silk could even be used to battle cancer and other amazing medical purposes.
- Scientists have been interested in producing spider silk since the 1700s. Researchers first cloned a spider silk gene in 1990
- How to make it?
- Spiders produce a tiny amount of silk for their own needs and production is difficult to scale up both due to volume and unique characteristics of spiders. They are territorial and don’t get along well with other spiders and eat each other if they get really pissed off.
- For this reason, scientists have been looking for other organisms to produce the silk. They’ve tried bacteria, yeast, plants, silk worms and even goats.
- How does that work?
- The U.S. Army funded research at Utah State University to produce spider silk in goat’s milk. This addresses the problem that spiders produce tiny amounts and are difficult to scale up.
- By splicing genes from orb-weaving spiders and inserting them into goats, the goats produce the protein in their milk
- A single goat produces about an ounce of protein per milking session, yielding several thousand yards of spider silk thread
- The milk proteins are separated, purified, freeze-dried and converted into powder form.
- The powder is then spun into a fiber to make textiles.
- Unfortunately, the proteins are often shorter and simpler than the spiders’ own
- The goal is to synthesize the toughest of spiders’ seven types of silks: the dragline that spiders hang from, which incorporates several kinds of silk proteins
- Scientists have recently produced a super strong spider silk using silkworms
- What are silkworms?
- A silkworm is a caterpillar of the silkworm moth that produces silk when they spin their cocoons to transition from a caterpillar to moth.
- This is the same silk used to make textiles.
- A team of scientists edited the silkworm genes so that it produces the silk of the golden orb weaver spider instead.
- The great thing about silkworms is that they’re peaceful unlike spiders. Another benefit is that the silk produced does not require further processing.
- There are already a few commercial products available made from spider silk, but they’re expensive.
- “Salt-infused graphene creates an infrared cloaking device” on August 3 at arstechnica.com
- When scientists were finally able to see at the nanoscale in the 1980s, they began to discover new materials. Graphene is another material that fascinates me and found its way into my new book, Project Gecko. It is a form of carbon, a nonmetallic, solid element that occurs in all organic life. But graphene exists at the nanoscale and is invisible to the human eye. At the macroscale, there are two forms of carbon, graphite or coal and diamonds.
- Graphene is a flat one-atom thick sheet of carbon. Because of its tiny dimension, it is considered a two dimensional material.
- Even more versatile than spider silk
- Thought to be strongest material known to exist, 200x the strength of steel
- Fun overlap with spider silk: Researchers at the University of Trento, Italy fed spiders a diet partially comprised of graphene. The silk ended up being 3x the strength and 10x the toughness of the silk spiders normally produce.
- What is salt-infused graphene and why is it special?
- Scientists have been working to create cloaking materials that redirect various waves on the electromagnetic spectrum and control how light interacts with objects
- What if you could wear a suit that blocked infrared sensors from detecting the heat emissions of your body?
- Researchers made a thick graphene layer (around 100 to 150 graphene sheets thick) and placed a thin coating of ionic fluid (liquid salt) on the outside of the graphene layer, making the material reflect rather than absorb infrared and camouflaging heat
- The material is flexible and can be worn.
- What is spider silk?
Let’s turn to Bionic Bug. Last week, Lara visited the botox clinic and found out about a missing shipment. At the clinic, she ran into her ex-boyfriend Rob and he told her who prescribed the antibiotics to Sully. Let’s find out what happens next.
The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.