Dinner Table Conversation: What Can You Make Out Of Spider Silk?

January 19, 2019

Xyza Junior Reporters Krish V. and Oliver R. had the opportunity to interview Dan Widmaier, the CEO and Co-founder of Bolt Threads. What is Bolt Threads? It’s a company that uses technology to create materials that are inspired by nature. These materials are then used to make products like bags, clothing, and other accessories! Check out what our Junior Reporters had to ask Mr. Widmaier and what he had to say:

Is anyone on your team scared of spiders?
Lucky for us, we don’t actually use spiders anymore when we make spider silk! By studying real spiders’ DNA and silk fibers, we were able to replicate the spider’s process of making silk and use technology to make Microsilk™ without any spiders. Now, even the most squeamish don’t need to worry about walking into a dark corner of our labs.

Why did you want to create spider silk?
There were a few reasons why we decided to make spider silk. First, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. About twenty percent of water pollution worldwide comes from textile processing. We wanted to create a material that is better for our planet. Secondly, spider silk has a lot of properties which make it a unique textile. For example, spider silk is extremely strong, much stronger than traditional silk, and just as strong as steel. We found that very intriguing.

Do the bags smell like mushrooms?
Mylo™ doesn’t have much of a smell, so it doesn’t actually smell like mushrooms at all!

What inspired your team to try and achieve what others had failed at?
We really want to help look after our planet by creating new, sustainable materials that are better for the environment. This has been our biggest inspiration.

Do you know which mushroom is poisonous and which isn’t?
Luckily, we don’t have to work with any poisonous mushrooms since we know which ones work best for us!

How do you make the mushroom fabric? How do you make the mushrooms from lumpy to smooth?
Mylo™ is made from mycelium, which is the root structure of a mushroom. We start by growing our own mycelium and feeding it a diet that is rich in nutrients. We learned how to control the environment in which our mycelium grows for things like temperature and humidity (how much moisture there is in the air) to create the ideal growing conditions for our mycelium. The mycelium that we grow isn’t lumpy and looks a lot like foam. Once we are done growing, we harvest the mycelium and compress it to make it into a fabric-like material. We can then process the resulting material to add different colors and properties to make it look like leather. Since we are able to control the whole process from start to finish, we can make sure the material feels just as smooth as leather.

Is spider silk as sticky as spider web? If not, how do you make it less sticky?
Did you know that some spiders make as many as seven different types of spider web? Each type has different properties. Some are strong, another is stretchy, and others are sticky. When we studied spiders and their spider webs, we picked out a type that would be best for making spider silk, one that is strong and stretchy, but not sticky. In the end, our spider silk is not sticky at all!

Are dogs attracted to Mylo just like they are to leather? If not, wouldn’t it be another benefit of Mylo?
That’s a great question. We haven’t done any formal testing, but when we had a “bring your dog to work day,” we didn’t notice any dogs being attracted to Mylo.