This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project will continue the development and commercialization of spider silk fibers commenced in the Phase I effort. Spider silk is a unique material in nature that is currently inaccessible on a commercial scale. Spider silk and other protein polymers are broadly useful in fields ranging from specialty textiles, to medical devices and advanced composites. The critical limitation in producing artificial spider silk fibers has been the lack of availability of bulk silk material and the knowledge of how to appropriately process the polymer into a product of native quality. This project will continue prior work to deliver scalable quantities of material through microbial production of spider silk protein using a commercially viable cost structure. In addition, this project will examine the key parameters for processing silk polymer into fibers whose properties surpass those of native spider silk. The ability to produce prototype silk fibers from recombinant protein will enable the initial steps towards commercializing spider silk fiber-based products.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is important to the adoption of a job-creating bio-based economy in the United States. The ability to produce protein polymers has bedeviled biological researchers for decades. Many important structural proteins and enticing commercially-useful materials have remained effectively impossible to produce. The advent of cutting-edge techniques in synthetic biology, microfabrication, and materials processing now make the production of protein polymers and the processing of them into beneficial technologies a realistic goal. Potential applications of protein-based polymers include a full range of sophisticated materials that are furthermore "green" and sustainable. Spider silk polymers, due to their mechanical properties, can potentially be used to create the next generation of ballistic fibers in the production of armor for military, law enforcement, and private users. In addition, the ability to produce advanced polymers independent of petroleum sources is a key goal of the emerging bio-based economy. Lastly, many protein polymers (including silk) are biocompatible and biodegradable and thus can form the basis for new classes of medical materials used to replace or re-grow connective tissues with implants or devices.

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Refactored Materials, Inc.
San Francisco
United States
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