Silk – the fiber spun by silkworms and spiders – has a lot going for it. It’s stronger than any synthetic material, rivaling even bulletproof Kevlar. It’s also flexible, durable and biodegradable, and can withstand extremely high temperatures. Until recently, however, much of silk's potential has remained relatively untapped.
The first challenge, Kaplan said, is to figure out how to reverse engineer the spider's silk, essentially turning back the clock to an earlier step in the process when the silk is just a soup of chemicals.
The second challenge is to figure out how to make enough of the silk. “Assuming we continue to see this progress in using silks in all sorts of materials, you’re going to have to find ways to produce more silkworm silk as well as spider silks. And at least by today’s technology, we’re not there," said Kaplan, who is a co-author of a new review paper about the state of the silk-making field.