Spidergoat-silk + human skin = (nearly) bulletproof flesh

Bioartist Jalila Essaïdi attempted to create bulletproof human skin by implanting transgenic spider-silk (extracted from a spider-goat, of course) with human skin. Essaïdi was hoping for skin that could stop a 2.6g projectile at 329 m/s (the performance standard for bulletproof vests, apparently), but didn't quite make it.
By implementing this bulletproof matrix of spider silk produced by transgenic goats in human skin I want to explore the social, political, ethical and cultural issues surrounding safety in a world with access to new biotechnologies. Issues which arise on the basis of ancient human desire for invulnerability. It is legend that Achilles, the central character of Homer’s Iliad was invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel. Will we in the near future due to biotechnology no longer need to descend from a godly bloodline in order to have traits like invulnerability?
2.6g 329m/s (via Medgadget)


  1. I’ve been saying “the hell with cyber-punk & steam-punk & all that razzle dazzle, I’m a spider-punk, like Peter Parker, or Driz’zt, or clone Ripley!” for years!

  2. The only problem I can see with this is the history of invention/innovation.  Knights were invulnerable (more or less) until the invention of the crossbow.  The moment someone figures out how to make bullet proof skin, someone will invent something that defeats it…. maybe some sort of pyrotechnic bullet that will set the target on fire or just a faster bullet that doesn’t deform like lead does.

    1. Of course, crossbows appeared the instant plate armour showed up on
      the battlefield, and the methods of their manufacture were immediately
      understood by anyone who even heard of them. It’s not like anyone had the time to put the advantages of improved armour to use waging wars and gaining greater advantage over their enemies. I guess we should stop innovating now, as clearly ‘perfect’ is unachievable, therefore ‘good enough’ won’t do.

      1. Wow. I think the .950 JDJ may have just won the “Elephant gun or White Elephant gun?” award forever…

    2. You’re describing incendiary ammunition/tracers and full metal jacket/total metal jacket rounds here.

  3. Really now; Achilles was invulnerable because he was dunked into the the river Styx as an infant – his genetic profile had nothing to do with it. And the entire point of his story is that the supposed invulnerability did him absolutly no good in the end.

    Why must “bioartists” do this all the time: spoil their tinkering with a heap of half-digested pretentious cultural referrences, when it is so blatantly obvious that they really do stuff like this because its wicked kewl?

  4. “By implementing this bulletproof matrix of spider silk produced by transgenic goats in human skin I want to explore the social, political, ethical and cultural issues surrounding safety in a world with access to new biotechnologies.”

    LOL, wut? 

    1. Nothing is so straightforward that it can’t be made opaque through postmodernist rhetoric. It wouldn’t be “bioart” if Essaïdi just described what he she did.

      1. Nothing is so straightforward that it can’t be made opaque through postmodernist rhetoric. It wouldn’t be “bioart” if Essaïdi just described what he she did.

        My favorites are the descriptions that modern dancers write about their dances. Somehow they always throw “exploration of time and motion” into the mix.

        I mean… duh! It is dance we’re talking about!

  5. Why try to pass this off as art? It’s just a cool little experiment. It’s postings like this that make the hard sciences pick on the biologists. Just come out and say it with me: “I did this because it’s cool”. No need to make it sound like you are discovering the secrets of humanity or make bad references to the Iliad.

  6. It’s worth noting that stopping a bullet at skin level (a) depends on the caliber/shape/fragmentation characteristics of the bullet, and (b) still allows the transfer of all that momentum as a hydrostatic shock wave through the body, which can cause enough damage to be fatal all by itself.

    Taken solely as an art piece… it’s pretentious, it’s ill-informed (as others have pointed out), I don’t like it, but I grant it’s legitimate within that space.

  7. Maybe the resource is boinged, but the page isn’t entirely loading for me at the moment.  Is there more information than the summary page at the link?  I’m not clear on the details, like what he means by “implanted.”  A patch sewn into his arm?  Or glued to a cadaver on a forensics range?

  8. Yeah, I’m going to wait for it to ACTUALLY be bulletproof before I tear off my own skin for a replacement.

  9. “Hey guys, just finished the Nexus 6 model.  Anyone got any ideas what I should cover her with?”
    “Well, we got 20 yards of this stuff.”
    “Hmm, does it have any special properties?”
    “Does it evah!”

  10. The modern-artist drivel is rather tedious; but the project is pretty cool indeed.

    Skin, along with certain aspects of metabolism and the habit of getting old and weak and frail, is really one of those areas where what was once optimal now really isn’t so hot for a nontrivial portion of the population.

    Back in ye-olde hominid days, being able to do a quick-and-dirty mess of scars repair on a wound before the owner either starved because they couldn’t gather or died of infection was likely a pretty good idea. The fact that today, even with unlimited time, attention, nutrients, and aseptic conditions in the burn ward we still have no choice but to do a quick-and-dirty mess of scars repair sucks. Plenty of room for some transhumanist optimization here…

  11. They have spider-goats at the Agricultural Museum at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa, I was disappointed when I saw them because they just look like goats.  I was hoping they’d at least put up a massive spider-web in the corner of their stall to freak people out – I will say they are remarkably less aggressive then normal goats, but that may just be related to the fact that you can’t feed the spider-goats, and you can feed the normal goats so the spider-goats see no need to be aggressive.

  12. As far as I know, the silk from the spiders should be strong enough on its own, but the transfected silk milk goats only produce silk that is about one 10th of the strength of the spider silk. Knowing this, my presumption would be that this would fail.

  13. What’s frightening is that everyone here and – apparently – in the first page of Google search results, is treating this as news rather than fiction.

  14. Even if it worked perfectly and was ready to be used on humans, you wouldn’t want it. You’re far more likely to need surgery at some point in your life than you are to need your skin to need to stop a bullet. Surgeries would get far more dangerous, if they were even still possible.

    1. Blades and bullets penetrate materials in dramatically different ways.

      Fiber armor, which is what this stuff is closest to being, isn’t a lightweight by textile standards; but you can cut your way through the fibers without notable difficulty: they are engineered for great tensile strength, to eat some of the impact of a comparatively blunt object travelling at extremely high speed. A very sharp object is entirely different.

      Ceramic trauma plates would certainly ruin a scalpel’s day; but anybody who is growing those has other issues…

    1. It’s a goat that has been genetically modified to produce spider silk protein from its mammary glands. The protein they produce isn’t nearly as strong as the silk from spiders though. The silk doesn’t just shoot out of their udders, it still has to be processed with an additional step in order to form the silk threads; Unlike the spiders where the process happens at one gland.

  15. How ’bout spidergoatsilk skin AND a light blue spidergoatsilk button-front shirt, detailed with a faded screen print, monochromatic buttons and chest pocket, cut with a little extra room through the chest and body for comfort?

  16. silly questions maybe, but….

    would your hairs still be able to penetrate the skin?  Or would they all become ingrown?  

    would sweat/oil be able to penetrate the new skin? 

    what about pimples/boils/blisters?  

    heck, would calluses work the same way with the new spidergoat skin?  

    I’d certainly like some skin that was more scratch resistant.  It’s be awesome if it was bee/wasp/fire ant resistant, too.  I’d find that more useful than bulletproof skin.  

  17. There’s a disclaimer on pg.2 of the linked article, directly below the video, “Disclaimer: this project shows in no way the true potential of this silk and is first of all an art project.” Basically, this time out they were aiming to repel a .22 round, because the process hadn’t been tried before. They weren’t optimizing – they were looking for proof of concept. So, the idea that the spider goat silk can be combined with human skin to make something that has some bullet resistance has now been proven.

    I agree that a major problem with skin armor is that without secondary protection anything above a .45 will still get you injured/killed just from concussion to the chest, and you don’t even need that much to the neck or temple. The larger the round, the less penetration actually matters. 

    awjt may be joking, but may also be on to something with a combination of skin and shirt. If the shirt is loose-fitting, it will actually take up some of the impact just from drag. Not much, but possibly enough to prevent major damage. And if a pair of pants and a shirt could protect your extremities, you’d be free to wear a thinner, less constrictive vest and helmet giving you maneuverability – always an asset in a fight.

    About surgery issues… Since the skin would be grafted on, there’s no reason to make it match existing skin in color tone. Armored plates could be seen through variations in melanin. That would assist with major surgeries requiring large access. Many surgeries today only need small access points at the skin, and are then completed with micro tools. It really doesn’t need to be a problem.

  18. Back in Mongol days, I’m told, silk shirts were used as “armor” against arrows. They wouldn’t stop you from getting punctured, but they’d reduce depth of penetration and hopefully ease extraction.

    Of course, it isn’t clear whether having the shirt you’ve been living in for the past several weeks, and its culture of microorganisms, driven deep into your flesh is actually an improvement as far as survivability goes.

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