Dan Widmaier, cofounder and CEO of Bolt Threads, dons a white lab coat with his name and the numeral one—for employee number one—on the back before opening a door to the company’s lab. Inside, Widmaier and his cofounders, David Breslauer and Ethan Mirsky, are growing artificial spider silk, something that scientists around the world have been trying to do for decades. Spider silk is known for being extremely soft and strong, and it could make long-lasting, lightweight and desirable clothes.
Widmaier pulls a small circular container labeled 1314 from a refrigerator. Some white blobs of yeast cling to its sides. Every four hours, the yeast doubles, he says, and when it’s ready it will go into a fermenter down the hall, where it will be shaken and stirred, in a process similar to brewing beer (but with oxygen added to keep it from becoming alcoholic). “It’s making silk of some sort,” he says with a shrug, noting that Bolt Threads’ data system tracks exactly what’s going on in the thousands of strains the company has tested to date. “One of the coolest things about this is that it’s self-replicating,” he says. “It eats sugar, which costs about 10 cents a pound.”