Scientists to engineer a human with bulletproof skin
By mixing the genomes of spiders and humans, researchers say they can create genetically altered human skin that could withstand a bullet fired from a .22-caliber long rifle.
Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 01:56 AM
Photo: U.S. Library of Congress/public domain
Peter Parker originally got his superhuman powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Now, as if inspired by a comic book, scientists working with the Forensic Genomics Consortium in the Netherlands want to mix the genomes of spiders and humans to create — though not quite a real-life spiderman — a superhuman with silk-like, bulletproof skin, according to the Daily Mail.
It sounds unbelievable, but the research is already well underway. The project is being called "2.6g 329m/s" after the weight and the velocity of a .22-caliber long rifle bullet from which the genetically modified human skin could presumably withstand a blast.
So, why spiders? The key to the technology is in the protein that makes spider silk. It turns out that spider silk, when spun out and weaved properly, can be made into a material that is not just bulletproof, but 10 times stronger than steel. The idea is to replace our keratin, the protein that makes up human skin, with a modified version of the protein in spider silk.
"Imagine replacing keratin, the protein responsible for the toughness of the human skin, with this spider silk protein," said Jalila Essaidi, one of the Dutch researchers behind the project. "This is possible by adding the silk-producing genes of a spider to the genome of a human: creating a bulletproof human. Science fiction? Maybe, but we can get a feeling of what this transhumanistic idea would be like by letting a bulletproof matrix of spider silk merge with an in vitro human skin."
The technology only gets weirder. To test it, researchers genetically engineered a goat to produce milk that is packed with the spider silk protein. The material was then milked out of the goat and weaved together, creating a bulletproof substance. Researchers then grew a layer of real skin around a sample of the bulletproof substance produced by the goat, so that bullets could be fired into it.
The following video, posted by the researchers on YouTube, depicts these experiments (Note: the video is all in Dutch):
Also on MNN: 20 impressive high school science fair projects