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Spider-silk-producing silkworms to be commercially developed

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April 13, 2011

Biotech firm Sigma Life Science plans on developing genetically-modified silkworms, that w...

Biotech firm Sigma Life Science plans on developing genetically-modified silkworms, that will produce spider silk for use in commercial applications
(Photo: Fastily)

Although cobwebs may seem very fragile when we see people like Indiana Jones crashing through them, the fact is that spider silk is an incredibly strong and flexible material. It has a tensile strength similar to that of high-grade steel while only being one-fifth as dense, it can stretch up to 1.4 times its relaxed length without breaking, and it can maintain those properties down to a temperature of -40C (-40F). Given that spiders don't secrete huge quantities of the stuff on a daily basis, however, what's a biotech firm to do if it wishes to harvest the fibers for use in human technology? In the case of Sigma Life Science, it's getting genetically-modified silkworms to spin spider silk.

Sigma has partnered with Kraig Biocraft Laboratories (KBLB) to develop the silkworms, using Sigma's proprietary CompoZr Zinc Finger Nuclease (ZFN) technology.

Last year, KBLB successfully created hybrid silkworms with randomly inserted spider genes. The creatures secreted hybrid "spidersilkworm" silk, that was stronger and more durable than silk from regular silkworms, but still not as strong as spider silk.

Utilizing the claimed precise gene targeting and high efficiency of the ZFN process, KBLB and Sigma now plan on inserting spider silk genes into the silkworm genome, while simultaneously removing the native silkworm silk genes. The result, the companies hope, will be transgenic silkworms that produce pure spider silk "at commercially viable production levels."

The material may be used in applications such as sutures, tendon and ligament repair, bulletproof vests, and automobile airbags.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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6 Comments

and don't forget handspinners!!

David Larson
13th April, 2011 @ 08:13 pm PDT

rope...I want rope made of this stuff!

Bryan Paschke
14th April, 2011 @ 07:57 am PDT

What about fishing line? We could have REAL "Spiderwire"!

James Howard Tennyson
14th April, 2011 @ 09:46 am PDT

I have always wondered how these little creatures can manufacture something better than the brightest engineers of all time. It takes a lot of engineering to manipulate these "genes" which know one can even see and yet the engineer that designed those "genes" gets no credit at all from many! I have never seen intelligent design coming from an accident. (The gene is a genetic blueprint inside of every cell.)

If a web enlarged to the size of a football field, a web of dragline silk 0.4 inch thick with strands 1.6 inches apart could stop a jumbo jet in flight! Spiders can produce dragline silk at room temperature, using water as a solvent. An engineer learns at school - who taught the spider how to make the many web designs? Do we take the manufacturing of silk for granted and say "Oh, it just happened"?

donwine
14th April, 2011 @ 01:13 pm PDT

I'm not sure what exactly donwine is trying to convey. Is it an attempt to introduce us to some supernatural being? I was under the impression that Gizmag was a scientific area!

Ian Colley.

Terotech
16th April, 2011 @ 07:30 am PDT

Gizmag is pretty annoying with the misleading article titles. They said "to be commercially developed" as if they have already been "developed". But reading the story it seems like they've made silk stronger but have yet to actually create the spider silk creating silk worm. So how do you sell a product that is, at this point, theoretical?

Drew Ryan
27th April, 2011 @ 01:25 am PDT
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