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The Big Science Behind This Modern Fabric House Bolt Threads aims to corner the next big thing in textiles: spider silk.

By Jason Daley

This story appears in the October 2016 issue of Start Up.

Bolt Threads

Whether you think spiders are cool or they freak you out, the silk they produce is amazing stuff. Strand for strand, it is lighter and tougher than steel and can be as strong as synthetic fibers like Kevlar. For decades, researchers have talked about using the wonder material in the construction of lightweight, bulletproof armor for soldiers and breathable fabrics for athletes, as well as for medical applications like mending bones and covering wounds. Problem is, despite all the futuristic daydreaming, no one was able to figure out how to get the thousands of arachnids needed to make even a small amount of usable silk to cooperate.

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When Dan Widmaier was wrapping up his Ph.D. at the University of California, San Francisco, where he studied spider proteins, he and a pair of colleagues had a brilliant idea. Why not sidestep the creepy crawlers altogether and make synthetic spider silk? In 2010, Widmaier, David Breslauer and Ethan Mirsky took the next step and launched Bolt Threads in Emeryville, Calif.

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