Silks are incredible protein fibers produced by many different species of insects. Besides their use in making versatile textiles, silks are currently used in many different medical and engineering applications, from sutures to tissue engineering scaffolds to flexible electrode brain implants. Since I love fabrics and I’m interested in what biological engineers can do with biomaterials, I recently started working on a fun side project to raise and engineer silkworms, the animals used in industrial silk production around the world. We’re having a lot of fun learning about silk and how to raise such macro-organisms when we’re used to bacteria. Watching them grow from tiny hatchlings to enormous (finger-sized) worms ready to cocoon has been pretty amazing.
The worms aren’t actually worms at all, but the larval stage of a moth. The cocoon is made out of a single mile-long strand of silk that protects the animal during its transformation into a moth. The actual process of making the silk cocoon is incredible, here is a time-lapse movie one of my colleagues made of the 24-hour long process: