Bolt Threads has announced a cooperative effort with Ginkgo Bioworks. Bolt Threads is a biotech company that focuses on synthetic fabrics and materials, and Ginkgo Bioworks has built a cell programming platform that aids in the growth of biotechnology across diverse markets. They are combining their accrued knowledge and expertise to pursue a more efficient and cost-effective procedure for Bolt Thread’s b-silk.
Bolt Threads’ silk innovations begin with Microsilk, a synthetic silk protein that aims to replace the traditional means of harvesting the coveted textile. PETA estimates that nearly 6,600 silkworms are killed in the creation of one kilogram of silk. Its most popular substitute, polyester, is hardly more ethical, as it is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. Bolt Threads sought to offer a solution with Microsilk, which combines water, yeast and sugar with spider DNA to replicate the texture. Not only is the new material bio-based and biodegradable, it is also vegan and microbiome friendly.
In order to formulate its new invention, Bolt Threads first researched spiders and how they spun their silk. Using that information, it developed proteins to inject into the yeast, which it then isolated and purified to form fibers. In 2017, Bolt worked with designer Stella McCartney to craft a dress made with Microsilk, which was unveiled at New York’s MoMA. Since then, Bolt has expanded to hats, ties, and other accessories.
With this prior discovery and subsequent foray, Bolt Threads launched a related endeavor with b-silk. Compared to Microsilk, b-silk seeks to aid the beauty and personal care industry. In the last step, Bolt Threads purifies the protein into a soft powder that it integrates into shampoos, cleansers, lotions, and masks. The company claims that it has protective properties against pollution and blue light. It is also an alternative to keratin and polymers.
With regards to the newly-announced partnership, Ginkgo’s knowledge of cellular manipulation will allow Bolt Threads to program the proteins just like a computer could. Together, their end goal is to scale the method to mass availability and other applications, which may translate to Microsilk as well.
“Ginkgo’s expertise in engineering biology will enable us to accelerate our work transforming the clean beauty and personal care industries with new, sustainable ingredients that have been previously inaccessible to consumers,” said David Breslauer, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Bolt Threads in a joint press release. “b-silk protein has the potential to bring new performance properties to everyday products while utilizing truly sustainable production processes at scale.”
Bolt Threads notes that its secondary objectives are to make the silk proteins more sustainable and cost effective. These alternative silk innovations have yet to see widespread adoption, but this maneuver will dictate whether or not that can change for the near future.
“We are thrilled to be working with Bolt Threads, one of the longstanding innovative product designers in synthetic biology, to support their innovation in the beauty and personal care industries,” said Jason Kelly, co-founder and CEO at Ginkgo Bioworks. “We believe in the power of biology to transform every industry that produces physical goods and have built our platform to enable innovators like Bolt Threads to bring their vision to life.”
Specific details are pending, as the partnership is still in early development. Silk has been long overdue for a sustainable industry disruption, which Bolt Threads and Ginkgo Bioworks have their eyes solidly trained on, and with $123 million USD raised in backing, they may achieve that goal sooner than expected.
In other material news, Polartec recently announced the elimination of toxic PFAS treatments for its water-repellent fabrics.