Who doesn't like silk? It feels great in every temperature and is birthed from the bodies of amazing little silkworms. It can also kill bacteria like anthrax, according to a new study.
Scientists at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory concluded that bleach-soaked silk can wipe out E. coli and anthrax within minutes of contact. In the event of a terrorist attack, people could hang silk curtains as protective sheaths in their homes, researcher Rajesh Naik and his colleagues suggest.
In a more cheerful scenario, germaphobe moms might also want to take advantage of the fabric's germ-killing potential. Though other types of bleach-soaked fabrics like polyester and nylon kill bacteria that touches them, they don't do anything about "spores," or dormant bacteria with tough casings. Silk works on both spores and bacteria, the scientists found.
The silk industry in China alone produces $31.25 billion worth of material, much of it for clothing, according to 2010 data from the country's Ministry of Commerce. But the silkworms can spin out more than lacy lingerie and Oscar gowns. In its 5,000 year existence, silk has been used in everyday products from paper to parachutes to the inner casings of bicycle tires.
With all the new silk-related technology under development, the market could become even more lucrative. Other scientists are currently experimenting with new, industrial applications for silk. According to Fiorenzo Omenetto, professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts, the fabric has many properties that make it ideal for use in high-tech devices. The film of silk fiber can integrate with microelectronics and be used to display holograms. Silk is also biocompatible, meaning it can be used in surgical procedures and not rejected by human bodies. It holds medicines like vaccines and antibiotics as well as it does bleach.
Silk "acts like a cocoon for biological matter," Omenetto explained at his TED talk last May. "So the question is, how do you reinvent something that has been around for five millennia?" he asked.
(Thanks to Ecouterre for the tip.)
Correction: An original version of this story misidentified the insects that produce silk. In fact, silk is produced by silkworms.
Watch Omenetto's TED talk about silk: