Ashley Morris, a senior research engineer in the UK Center for Applied Energy Research’s Materials Technologies Group, has spent the summer in the Bay Area serving as Interim Director of Fiber Spinning for synthetic spider silk startup, Bolt Threads.

Morris honed her skills over the past 8 years while developing UK CAER’s world class solution spinning line and has become an expert in the field of solution spinning (often used for the production of acrylic fibers, which can then be converted into carbon fiber). That experience provided her an opportunity to spend the summer at Bolt Threads, a venture backed startup producing synthetic spider silk, which is known to be five times stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar.

Bolt’s scientists use recombinant technology to modify the genetic code of spider genes that make silk proteins and insert them into a strain of yeast. Fed with sugar and water and left to ferment, the yeast expresses the spider silk protein, which is then spun into fibers and converted into yarns for textiles. The company can tune the properties of the silk, making it, for example, “stretchier” or stronger, based on the genes inserted into the yeast.

Founded in 2009 and based in Emeryville, California, Bolt recently announced a partnership with Patagonia to develop goods from their proprietary spider silk-inspired fibers and textiles.

“Bolt Threads has offered me a terrific opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s top scientists and engineers in the field of biotechnology,” said Morris. “I am thankful for the opportunity to showcase leadership and technical skills gained at UK in a fast-paced startup environment, and the overall experience has made me a better researcher.”