Genetically engineered spiders may be the stuff of comic books, but what about genetically engineered silkworms? Working at the University of Wyoming, a team led by Dr Donald Jarvis has successfully modified silkworms in order to make them spin stronger silk that contains spider proteins. This makes the silk much more elastic and extensible, opening up a wide range of applications including textiles, bandages for burn victims, and even bullet-proof vests.

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Previously, spider silk proteins have been produced by transgenic bacteria and other natural cells, but the all attempts to incorporate them into fibers spun by silkworms have resulted in very low yields. However the team’s new method, which was reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has seen the creation of fibers that are at least as tough as spider silk and stronger than those spun by silkworms.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr Jarvis said: “Spider silks have enormous potential as biomaterials for various applications, but serious obstacles to spider farming preclude the natural manufacturing approach. Thus, there is a need to develop an effective biotechnological approach for spider silk fiber production. In addition to being used as sutures, silk fiber hold great potential as biomaterials for wound dressings, artificial ligaments, tendons, tissue scaffolds, microcapsules, and other applications.”

“Silkworms are the current biological source of silk sutures, but spider silk fiber have superior mechanical properties that are ideal for procedures requiring finer sutures, such as ocular, neurological, and cosmetic surgeries. These results demonstrate that silkworms can be engineered to manufacture composite silk fibers containing stably integrated spider silk protein sequences, which significantly improve the overall mechanical properties of the parental silkworm silk fibers.”

So by being both stronger and more flexible, spider silk is set to revolutionize both the medical and defense industries.

+ University of Wyoming

Via The Telegraph

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