Protein Materials:
A Revolution in Manufacturing

Spider silk, the toughest material on earth, only scratches the surface of the potential offered by proteins. Skillful combination of the 20 types of amino acids enables us to produce endless variations of materials with unique, unprecedented versatility. We have designed and synthesized over 600 types of original proteins, carefully analyzing their material properties to accumulate a massive amount of data. In the near future, proteins will be widely used as a basic industrial material, just as metals, glass, and plastics are used today. We have the vision, the drive and the determination to lead this revolution—and our partners are committed to the cause.

TrajectoryLaunching

BackgroundEleven Years of
Technological Innovations

Cost Barrier

Given the incredible potential of proteins and the materials they can produce, why hasn't the world already seen a revolution in industrial materials? The primary reason is cost. The fermentation process uses microorganisms to manufacture recombinant proteins, and driving the cost of this protein below $100 per kilogram was regarded as impossible—we have dubbed this idea as the "$100 Barrier." On the other hand, conventional wisdom in the materials market suggests that the threshold for widespread adoption of any given material—synthetic or otherwise—is a cost of about $20-30 per kilogram. Even then, when the objective is a mass-market scale of $10 billion or above, this cost must drop below $10 per kilogram. The gap between the per-kilogram cost of proteins produced via fermentation and what will gain widespread adoption on the current market is vast, and pioneering a new market requires massive investment. These factors resulted in recombinant protein material research remaining a largely uncharted territory.

Innovative Solutions

A staggering number of technological innovations were necessary if we were to reduce these overwhelming costs. Technologies for designing protein molecules and genes, chemical synthesis of DNA, genetic engineering, fermentation, purification, spinning and processing—no team existed in the world that could cover a scope this massive. Undaunted, we decided to tackle this project, starting from scratch. Internalizing the required technological components, we broke down barriers of specialization in the development process and built a research environment conducive to interdisciplinary thinking. We maintain quick-thinking, yet thorough and rational minds as we confront the myriad of problems spanning multiple technological domains. Our feedback cycle allows us to create tailor-made material designs, providing us with a revolutionary platform for the development of new, sustainable, and exciting high-performance materials.

Five Step Feedback Cycle

  • 1. Molecular Design

    Spiber designs new protein molecules that balance performance and productivity—an essential balance for any industrialized process. Bioinformatic analyses of amino acid sequences and genetic codes allow us to achieve increases in tensile strength, elasticity, and heat tolerance in addition to improving the fermentation productivity of host microorganisms.

  • 2. Gene Synthesis

    High-throughput gene synthesis is vital to the efficient development of new protein molecules with various amino acid sequences. However, the sequences present in spider silk proteins are highly repetitive, making this process incredibly challenging. At Spiber, we have completely overcome this obstacle, and have the ability to synthesize any type of fibroin genes in a minimum of just three days. To date, we have synthesized over 250 artificial spider silk genes by using this new technology, and add more to our gene library every day.

  • 3. Microbial Fermentation

    Once new candidate fibroin genes are designed and synthesized, we use our proprietary protein expression system to test produce proteins. We incorporate the synthesized genetic DNA into microorganisms, granting them the ability to produce fibroin proteins. Test spinning can begin as soon as 10 days after gene synthesis is complete, once fermentation and refining conditions have been fine-tuned. After the initial candidates have been screened, we can scale up to obtain larger quantities of prospective proteins as necessary. Spiber boasts the highest rate of microbial fibroin protein expression in the world. Compared to our rate of expression when research first began, the advancements in our fermentation process and gene design capabilities have lead to an astounding 2,500 fold increase in productivity.

  • 4. Spinning

    Fibroin proteins produced through microbial fermentation are refined and formed into fibers through our proprietary spinning process. The properties of the resulting artificial spider silk are carefully analyzed and recorded in our database, to be leveraged in future molecular designs. Here at Spiber, we have created entirely new technology to spin artificial fibroin fibers with toughness comparable to natural spider silk. Moreover, we have established the first scalable spinning process in the world, paving the way for the mass production of artificial spider silk.

  • 5. Prototyping

    We manufacture the spun fibers into a variety of materials, such as textiles and composites, in order to prototype finished products. Repeating this prototyping and evaluation allows us to develop the necessary equipment and processes for production with these new materials, maximizing value for the end user. From the initial genetic synthesis to the final prototyping, a multitude of parameters influence productivity and functionality, the assessments of which are stored in our databases. This data will be fed back into the next generation of molecular design, and a new cycle will begin.

Development
as of Mar. 2017

Feedback cycle
12
Gene design
882

Breakthrough

Eleven years of countless innovations produced through our core feedback loop have helped us significantly reduce the cost of silks produced through fermentation, which is one of the largest obstacles to widespread adoption. Since we began researching the fermentation process in 2008, productivity has increased by 4,500 times, and the manufacturing cost is now a mere 1/53,000 of what it once was. We are rapidly approaching the key cost threshold for exponential proliferation.

Initial TargetStarting from Outdoor Apparel

Apparel is an enormous industry with a market size of approximately 2 trillion dollars. Additionally, the product development cycle is very rapid when compared to the transport or medical segments. When looking for a way to achieve widespread adoption in a short timeframe, the apparel industry is a logical starting point. Outdoor apparel is a particularly good fit for our protein materials, as it demands high performance with low environmental impact, as well as commands a generous share of the market. Together with The North Face, a worldwide leader in outdoor apparel, we are ready to usher in a new era for industrial materials.

Productivity

x4,500

Cost

1/53,000

Priority Segments (Market Scale : USD. Approx.)

  • Apparel

    2,000billion

  • Automotive

    2,500billion

  • Medical Devices

    350billion

Mankind MeetsMOON PARKA

Prepare for the next frontier of human civilization
with an unprecedented leap in materials science.
The revolution starts now.

MOON PARKANew world of exploration

On September 26, 2015, based on The North Face's Antarctica Parka, we created the world's first outerwear prototype made with our spider fibroin-based protein material QMONOS™. We call this historic prototype the "MOON PARKA™."

The North Face's Antarctica Parka is an outerwear jacket designed to endure the harsh conditions and intense cold of the South Pole, which the MOON PARKA™ is designed to match. The QMONOS™ outer material is the natural web color of the Golden Orb spider, and the almost unearthly glow inspired us to dub the color "Moon Gold." The embroidered logos are also made from a black QMONOS™.

Watch Video

A GIANT LEAP

The World's First Prototype Created on an Actual Manufacturing Line

During the prototyping process, we chose the protein types in our library that are best suited to crafting the outer material and embroidery thread. We then conducted extensive trials in order to find the perfect threads for the spinning, twisting, weaving, and sewing processes. MOON PARKA™ is the world's first piece of clothing made from synthetic protein material, and the prototyping process gave us great insight into the challenges that we still face on the road to mass production. Now that we understand them, all that remains is to solve them. The countdown to practical application for synthetic protein materials has begun.

Special Event
2015.10.08