Skin Doctoring

Using Spider Silk to
Create Bulletproof Skin

By now, every one of our enlightened readers knows that the biggest organ in the human body is not the skin, as it’s often believed, but the liver.
So it happens that the miraculously soft tissue that prevents your guts from spilling, and whose color hues can easily determine your place in society, is actually a multi-component system, hair, nails, glands and so on, flawlessly stitched together.
Most of everything else about it, though, remains poorly understood and, as far as subjects for a jovial discussion at the dinner table are concerned, skin would be one that we wouldn’t touch.
But if there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree about the human skin, apart from its amazing properties and ability to heal, is its vulnerability.
Now research on spider silk applied to the development of artificial skin has shown promise for the creation of a super skin, one that would be capable of withstanding the high impact of a bullet, for example.
Jalila Essaidi, a Dutch artist, had the idea of combining the superior strength of spider silk with the potential ability of the human body itself to produce it.
Thus, in the first phase of the experiment, scientists at the Forensic Genomics Consortium Netherlands created a skin made with goat’s milk, “enriched” with proteins found in the silk. Then, they grew human skin next to it, in a five-week process.
The resulting tissue was way tougher than regular human skin, but still not strong enough to stop a 22-caliber bullet. In the future, they hope to completely replace the naturally occurring keratin, which gives strength to the human skin, with the spider silk proteins.
Even though the stated ultimate goal of such an invention wouldn’t be to create a superman, potential applications for defense and law enforcement of such an invention, once fully developed, are undeniable.
It’d surely beat many of the ideas currently being discussed to enhance armies in the field with an extra edge. That would include some verging on the ridiculous, such as recent plans to develop bulletproof underwear for soldiers, or plain scary, such as selecting supposedly better warriors according to a certain DNA makeup.
The development of ways to “improve” on the performance of human skin is only possible after literally thousands of years of research on ways to preserve it and cultivate it.
From recorded skin transplants way Before the Common Era, to use in the Middle Ages, to qualitative leaps during the wars, skin grafts, for example, are now as common as organ transplants, and equally vital to save and improve lives. Technological advances only make such leaps seem more frequent.
But as enlighten readers as you all are, you know that we can’t end a post like this in such lofty terms. And since we’re great fans of recycling, we also ponder about the irony of the scientific community struggling to develop a better skin, all the while large swaths of the population simply getting rid of some of theirs.
We’re talking about foreskins, of course, and the often compulsory, and no longer easily justifiable, habit of circumcision. That is, if you don’t really follow any of the religious faiths that have been prescribing it for some 2,000 years.
This may change now, if a San Francisco activist group has its way. The group is proposing a ban on the practice through the Male Genital Mutilation bill. It faces enormous odds, not the least of them for being so blatantly misnamed, and also for proposing a heavy-handed ban in what should be, ultimately, a personal choice.
Besides, the practice of cutting off the foreskin of males, either for religious or other reasons, has been steadily declining in this country.
Circumcision should never be equated, even if by association, to the horrific Female Genital Mutilation, performed by certain African cultures, which effectively maims and threatens the lives of thousands of women throughout the continent.
Many suffer excruciating pain and chronic infections and all lose forever the ability of experiencing sexual pleasure.
However, the main argument in favor of circumcision, defended by the medical establishment, that an intact foreskin is a potential Petri dish for germs and infections, although not unfounded, ignores the real cause for the problem: poor personal hygiene.
In other words, the argument might be perfectly sound for underdeveloped nations, but much less so for an industrialized country such as the U.S.
So, as we witness the most favorable season for people to “show some skin” to slowly wane, we’re tempted to appreciate most related issues under the sun. Summer is always like that: lots of time to spare, and no one left in the city to take us to the movies.
A Teflon-like human skin? Great. Goat’s milk enriched with spider’s protein? Not so much. A pair of bulletproof underwear? Kind of silly. A discussion about foreskins: What a waste of time.

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