Bulletproof vests have been around for decades, but skin that can stop bullets has thus far only been the stuff of science fiction. Now, a new bio-art project headed by Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi is making “bulletproof skin” a reality.
In collaboration with Forensic Genomics Consortium Netherlands, researchers have created a lattice of human skin cells and genetically engineered spider silk that can stop .22 calibre bullets fired at reduced speeds. The “skin” has even shown potential to heal wounds.
The bulletproof skin’s success originated from the work of researcher Randy Lewis. Lewis and his team at Utah State University garnered international attention when they founded a commercially viable method of manufacturing spider silk fibers using silkworms and goats implanted with spider genes.
Mirroring the process of producing genetically engineered food, mixing the two species involves extracting a gene from the spider, melding it with bacteria, and inserting it into the goat’s egg. The new goat can then produce the “spider silk” in its milk – silk that when woven is 5 times stronger than steel and many times lighter.
Aptly named Project 2.6g 329m/s (the maximum weight and velocity a Type 1 bulletproof vest can withstand from a .22 calibre Long Rifle Bullet), the goal of the project was to replace keratin, the protein responsible for the toughness of human skin, with this spider silk protein. Research has already shown that the spider silk is compatible with the human body.
A high-speed camera showed that a bullet fired at reduced speed pierced skin woven with ordinary silk. However, when tested again with Lewis’ genetically engineered silk grafted between the epidermis and dermis, the skin didn’t break. You can watch the bullet firing into the skin sample below.