Big in Japan: Spider silk socks warm the toes and sooth the soul

In case you thought Japanese technology couldn’t get any cooler, wait until you hear about the latest and greatest invention from the land of the Rising Sun.

This week, the Reuters Life! division reported that Japanese researchers were successful in creating the first ever pair of socks made entirely from spider silk.

Yup. You read that correctly – spider silk socks!

Dr. Masao Nakagaki, a professor at Shinshu University in central Japan who developed the fiber after 10 years of research, gave the following press release:

“By genetically modifying silkworms, I thought it might be possible to create good spider silk. I [also] think it is better for the environment to replace artificial fibers that use up precious oil with natural recyclable fibers.”

Dr. Nakagaki went on to explain how his team succeeded in creating spider silk that was 10 percent spider proteins and 90 percent silk by injecting genes from a golden orb weaving spider into silkworms.

(For the non-scientists out there, I’ll explain what this means a little later on in the post).

Anyway, at this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “So why exactly are spider threads so damn strong?”

Good question! Allow me to explain…

Spiders can produce at least seven different types of silk, which are used for a variety of different purposes. For instance, extremely tough threads are used to attach the web to trees, while light and elastic fibers are use to build the web’s matrix.

In fact, some spider silk is molecularly stronger than steel, and lighter than all-known artificial fibers, such as the Kevlar found in bullet-proof vests.

Right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “So why is that spider silk clothing isn’t available at my local Walmart?”

Another good question! Allow me to explain…

The problem with harvesting spider silk is that it’s difficult to near impossible to mass-produce due to the limited amount that spiders can make.

This of course is why the work of Dr. Nakagaki is so groundbreaking.

By injecting spider genes into a silkworm, you can take advantage of the strength of spider threads while capitalizing on the ability of silkworms to produce mass quantities of fibers.

(At this point, I’ll resist the temptation to throw in a good Spiderman joke here!)

The benefits of spider silk socks don’t just stop there!

In addition to warming your toes, the research team wants their line of spider silk socks to be as therapeutic as possible for the wearer.

Although they’re still keeping hush-hush about the project, their aim is to simultaneously revitalize the wearer’s feet while possibly inducing anti-ageing compounds.

Working alongside the research team is Yoshiyuki Ueda of the Okamoto Corp, who gave the following press release:

“The Japanese sock industry has been overwhelmed by Chinese manufacturers, which is why we want to distinguish ourselves with our unique efforts.”

In case you’re wondering, spider silk socks are expected to hit the consumer market as early as 2010, though you can expect that there will more clothing and accessories to follow in the years to come.

** All photos were sourced from the Wikipedia Commons project **