The 4,000-Year History Of Humans And Silk

16:33 minutes

A pair of hands holding a silkworm cucoon with a silkworm pupa inside.
A silkworm pupa in a cocoon. Credit: Shutterstock

Silk is one of the most luxurious fabrics for clothing and bedding. Unlike cotton or linen, silk is made most commonly by insects—often the Bombyx mori, a domesticated moth that feeds on the leaves of mulberry trees. Humans have a 4,000-year history with the textile and the creatures that make it, as documented in the new book Silk: A World History.

Since silk has an unconventional origin as a secretion rather than a plant product, it has unique biological qualities that make it strong and enduring. And because it’s a natural protein fiber, it’s biodegradable, so scientists think it could have a future as a sustainable alternative to plastics and electronic parts.

Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross speaks with Dr. Aarathi Prasad, biologist and author of Silk: A World History. They discuss the ways humans have changed silk-creating creatures through domestication, future applications of the textile, and Prasad’s experience growing silkworms of her own.

Read an excerpt from Silk: A World History.

Further Reading

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Segment Guests

Aarathi Prasad

Dr. Aarathi Prasad is a biologist and the author of Silk: A World History. She’s based in London, England.

Segment Transcript

The transcript of this segment is being processed. It will be available within one week after the show airs.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Kathleen Davis

Kathleen Davis is a producer at Science Friday, which means she spends the week brainstorming, researching, and writing, typically in that order. She’s a big fan of stories related to strange animal facts and dystopian technology.

About Arielle Duhaime-Ross

Arielle Duhaime-Ross is freelance science journalist, artist, podcast, and TV host based in Portland, OR.

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