Dutch Artist Works to Create Bulletproof Skin

Strike FaceWhile the Pentagon is focused on building an “Iron Man” suit for first-in-the-door troops, a Dutch artist has been looking at ways to make human skin bulletproof.

It was just over a dozen years ago than a Dutch artist – whose medium is living, organic materials – read about a researcher who bred transgenic goats whose milk contained spider silk that could be harvested in large quantities. The objective was to create enough of the stuff to build better body armor.

“I thought, why bother with bulletproof vest, why not create a bulletproof human instead?” Jalila Essaïdi of Eindhoven, The Netherlands, told the Reuters news service in a recent interview.

What to Essaïdi began as an art project soon became “2.6g 329m/s” – a project name drawn from the maximum weight and velocity of a .22 caliber long rifle round that Type 1 body armor should be able to stop. Today, on the homepage of her website, you can see some of the results – including a video of a .22 round fired at a reduced speed that was stopped by the skin.

The targets in the test firings were made up of just four layers of the spider silk-human skin blend, cell biologist Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri of the Leiden University Medical Center told Reuters. A Kevlar vest, he says, is made up of 33 layers of material.

“We believe that if we generate a skin model with 33 layers, I think we can definitely hold a bullet,” he said.


About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • rtsy

    The tissue regeneration on spider silk is the really amazing part, great possibilities here for new organs and burn victims.

  • Pat Macrotch

    It might hold a bullet, but how would it swamp up the kinetic energy and prevent organ damage?

    • tmb2

      One problem at a time…

      • Musson

        I think DC comics developed a man with bullet proof skin back in the 1960’s.

    • Eric Anderson

      Watch a video of a bullet going through ballistic gel. It’s obvious that the damage come from the shock wave created as the bullet travels through the human body, which is mostly water. A bullet that creates a brief exterior “dent” and then bounces off wouldn’t create a shock wave that penetrates very deep.

      There is also some recent research that suggests the “shock” damage from bullets isn’t nearly as severe as had been assumed. In the end, it’s bullet fragments actually poking holes in things that causes problems. Your internal organs can take a pretty serious beating and still survive, but they don’t tolerate being poked full of holes.

      • Riceball

        Also watch a video or look at pictures of what happens to a person wearing body armor gets hit, they get all bruised and battered from the impact. Don’t discount the damage caused from the kinetic energy alone of a bullet hitting body armor even when it doesn’t penetrate.

    • john

      The others are right. the energy wouldn’t reach that deep. I’d rather contusions than holes in my body.

  • blight_


    “…By implementing this bulletproof matrix of spider silk produced by transgenic goats in human skin”

    I’m guessing they grew a skin matrix in vitro using a silk mesh as a scaffold. In short, this may be more lie silk with skin cells attached to it. The skin angle is just the art project half of it.

    Silk is a secreted product, and so unless you had a gland that could move under the dermis and weave a silk web under your skin regenerative spider-silk skin is a dream.

    Or spiders that lived under your skin. Isn’t that fun?

    • blight_

      And on the next page: http://jalilaessaidi.com/2-6g-329ms/2/

      letting a bulletproof matrix of spider silk merge with an in vitro human skin. A process which takes five weeks, during these weeks a bulletproof spider silk matrix is grown in-between the two layers that make up our skin. The use of different human skin cells which result in the dermis and epidermis make this the closest possible representation of a normal human skin in vitro.

      ‘Bulletproof’-skin: With the bulletproof spider silk matrix made, Essaïdi rushed to Dr. Abdoel El Ghalbzouri at the LUMC who agreed to help her embed the spider silk matrix in-between the dermis and epidermis of his ‘Alternatives to Animal Use’ skin model.

      It looks like they grew two skin layers in vitro, then sandwiched the silk layer in between. This is definitely more time-consuming than trying to use silk as a scaffold. My guess is if you coated a silk weave in a complete medium with vinculin or other ECM scaffold proteins it would serve as an effective matrix to scaffold human skin onto. It would then require peeling off a recipient’s epidermis for grafting: a very painful procedure indeed!

      And of course, once damaged the hole would have to be patched. Simply cutting a square out and putting another square of silk weakens the edges, which means a patch has to be super-imposed: a surgeon would have to cut into your skin and peel off the layer above the silk, and put a larger patch that covered the whole.

      Obviously the silk cannot be so strong that a surgeon cannot cut you open to stop arterial bleeding or whatnot. It would be ironic if a bullet-proof skin prevented a surgeon from cutting in with his scalpels to put a clamp on a gushing femoral and you bled to death.

      Let me note again that this is a hilarious art project that uses cell culture. Do not read into it too much!

      Edit 2: There’s talk about replacing keratin with silk protein. Not sure how that would work, or if the resulting product is as strong as spider silk. I was under the impression much of the strength of a bulletproof vest is in the /weave/ of a very strong material that would allow the force of a bullet to disperse over a wide area of the vest. Not sure that short lengths of silk between cells will have the same effects, and relies instead on the strength of cell-cell adhesion to hold layers of cells together from a bullet. A squishy cell is also likely to directly rupture from a bullet, which would rip apart a cell/silk system pretty quickly. Only one way to find out though…

      Edit 3: The analogy I would use is the Titanic’s hull. The plates were riveted together, and the iceberg hit, the plates did not fail: the rivets did, causing the plates to buckle and let water through. The strength of a “bulletproof skin” to survive bullets is based on holding the cells together. Implanting a silk weave into a skin is something else entirely.

    • hrmlss

      Thanks, now I won’t sleep tonight….

  • Robbie

    Add it or similar product to current body armor construction to reduce weight and improve wearability and protection? Wear it as a thin “last chance” layer under armor or to cover areas of the body not protected by armor?

    • Gar guddy

      I agree with Robbie. The bionics of implants are not feasible with current gene technology. Embedding foreign proteins between epi- and endo- layers of living skin must involve genetics. This is not about mechanical pasting or insertion. The most practical application is via matrix growth of silk threads, layered to absorb ballistic shock waves. These silken shells can be woven into carbon fiber or other proven, light weight, material. The ultimate realistic gain will be a thinning and therefore weight loss in body armor. Skin breathability for moisture loss and temperature control will be enhanced. Think existing silk underwear. Less weight translates to fewer calories burned, less core and muscle heat build up that dehydrates the tissues as the body tries to radiate the heat waste. The less moisture loss translates to less water consumed. This linear relationship continues to less weight (7 lbs./3liters) carried by individuals, to less weight of back- up supplies that must be part of the logistical calculation for theater-wide and squad size operations. This also will include fewer liters/lbs. of calories stored and transported as sustenance for all operations. Less mass a person needs to sustain self, the more space available for munitions and technology which maintains the edge, the advantage, and wins the moment. Save weight and exertion(calorie burn). Be lighter and maneuverable. ‘Float like a butterfly…, sting like a bee/wasp or a .223 !!!!!! ‘. Gar.

  • Lance

    Interesting, and its a lot more feasible than this dumb Iron Man brainstorm the Navy thought of. I would say stropping a .22lr is easy and I don’t think makes you bullet proof a 7.62x39mm round is a lot higher in velocity and w/o armored plates will punch threw light armor. though is this good research.

    • derp

      The Iron Man system is actually a better solution, and much easier to obtain.

  • Hunter76


    This is from an ARTIST. She’s doing performance art, an anti-military-industrial-political piece. If this were genuine research to grow silk in a cloth-like matrix, why use human skin?

  • oblatt22

    Next up Defense Tech discusses what the Pentagon has learned from extensive studies of Superman comics.

    • Gar

      Forever remember…, sci-fi is simply imagination waiting for techno-reality to catchup with it. Buck Rogers to the moon reigns supreme in the Apollo project. Buck Rogers death ray becomes real with our LAZER’s. Million dollar man becomes reality with bionics and iron man DARPA.

      • oblatt22


      • John Deere

        Your “LAZER’s [sic]”?

        Lasers were invented by the British.

        • Cataldo

          Yes, but without Einstein …. :)

  • hibeam

    For ever ground pounder out there also have a helicopter drone or two assigned to that one guy. Anyone who dared to engage that one soldier would be engaged by the helo drones. Better yet skip the ground pounder part and enforce your will with the helo drones alone.

  • SJE

    Integrating it into cloth or a plate is one thing, but if you tried to integrate it into human skin, you would get a huge immune reaction and rejection of the foreign protein. One week your skin is bullet proof, and the next week your skin is falling off, and the next you’re dead. The solutions to those problems, like immunosuppression or human genetic engineering,are even more complex.

    An alternative, partial solution, is that you can increase skin thickness on your body by repeated mechanical stress and injection of various chemicals. Thick leathery skin.

    • blight_

      Indeed, which is why it would make more sense to re-engineer the proteins humans come with, but you’re design constrained to ensure that the protein is still recognizable as belonging to the host.

      I’ll take the spidersilk shirt, thank you very much.

      • SJE

        Agreed. You can take off the shirt, but super thick skin is probably a serious problem for movement

        • blight_

          Bulletproof spandex.

          Suddenly this explains why Marvel superheroes dressed the way they did.

  • conradswims

    Put the same energy into defeating the enemy without a shot being fired. OH! We have that. Nuclear!

  • spiridon

    Bullet proof skin? Would it stop a misquito? Colors would be nice too…….

  • Robin

    Yeah, so would moving around b a problem? Cause I don’t wanna go out will batman 2night 2 find joker and realize I cant do a triple back flip anymore cause it doesn’t allow flexibility.

  • Kevin

    What about the guys that leave the service and become bad guys? A bunch of bullet proof bad guys sounds really bad to me.

  • Bill Babbitt

    Gonna make inoculations and surgery a bit difficult.

  • Bill Babbitt

    Already been done. A few good drinks and I get bullet proof.

    • RIppete

      And 10 foot tall?


    The best way of getting rid of one’s enemy or someone with a gun is to make her a friend and once that’s achieved stab her in the back.

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