The US Army is investing up to $1m in the development of spider silk body armour that could be lighter, thinner, more flexible and tougher than steel.
The miracle material is spun by genetically engineered silkworms, which are considered more manageable than their arachnid counterparts.
Spider DNA is inserted into the silkworms in order for the silk to be harvested on an industrial scale.
Kraig Biocraft Laboratories will be be granted nearly $100,000 (£75,260) to develop materials that can be used for performance testing. If the ballistic trials are successful, the US Army will offer the company up to $1m (£752,600) to significantly expand the work.
Silk is not quite as strong as Kevlar but it is considerably lighter and much more flexible, making the material a potentially revolutionary military fabric and raising the possibility of full body suits – a la Spidey.
The company suggests that the silk’s properties lend themselves to a wide variety of military, industrial and consumer applications, while “the global market for technical fibres is growing rapidly”.
Jon Rice, Kraig’s chief operating officer, told Defense One: “We are going to provide them a series of different thread counts, thicknesses, construction techniques that they will test against standard material performance specifications.”
Rice added: “Dragon Silk scores very highly in tensile strength and elasticity, which makes it one of the toughest fibers known to man and the ideal material for many applications. This contract reinforces the many significant potential applications for recombinant spider silk.”
The US military regularly invests in projects that appear to outpace our imaginations. Just this week, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that its prosthetic arm, one of the world’s most advanced, will go on sale towards the end of the year.
And last year, DARPA revealed its new lifesaving Atlas robot, a joint venture with the Alphabet-owned Boston Dynamics.