Yes, It’s Real: A Bio-Factory That Farms Spider Silk

Arachnophobes, you’ve been warned.

If you’ve seen the latest Spider-Man, or even if you haven’t, this won’t be a spoiler: When exploring a high-tech facility, Peter Parker comes across a room of glowing (genetically engineered) spiders. It’s a spider farm, essentially, built to harvest the strong, flexible web of spiders for human use. I’ll let you guess what happens to Parker from there.


In the movie, the spider farm was a ridiculous idea–we’ve farmed silk worms for thousands of years, but spiders are spiders, cannibalistic predators who work for no one.* But in the hands of Thomas Maincent, it’s a part proof of concept, part artistic statement, fully realized idea. Spiderfarm is his ongoing project, a semi-autonomous “bio-factory” built to simulate the habitat of spiders and claim their silk.

Maincent is a bit obsessed with natural process and animal technology. “The Nephila is working as a machine producing a very high tech material,” Maincent explains, referencing their wonder thread that’s five times stronger than steel. So in a glass house, Maincent holds 20 Madagascar silk spiders that weave a golden silk, steaming water to maintain humidity and providing crickets for nourishment. “In the initial project I produced flies with domestic waste to feed the spiders,” Maincent tells Co.Design, but our guess is that crickets proved to be a much cleaner solution than maggots.

On one hand, Spiderfarm is simple but technically impressive, yet on the other, it’s clearly not an easily scalable infrastructure. More so, it’s designed with as much focus on viewing the spiders as pieces of artwork in their cubicle frames as it is to gather strands of silk into a usable chunk. “In the spider factory nature’s perfect balance is reproduced. At the same time the system is intended to evoke a strong awareness of nature’s vulnerability,” Maincent admits. So through Spiderfarm, we see that the spider’s web is unfathomably strong yet wholly fragile, much like the spider itself.

*Interestingly enough, GM has recently engineered silk worms with the proper proteins to produce spider silk, making web farming a conceivable reality, without the spiders.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.