Scientists Genetically Engineer Silkworms to Produce Artificial Spider Silk

September 29, 2010 – 3:46 pm

Spider silk seems to be a beloved topic for researchers. Every once in a while, a story emerges announcing some kind of breakthrough related to the material. Its potential to benefit various industries is frequently mentioned, as is its superior strength relative to steel.

Unfortunately, the impact of spider silk has been limited, in part, by the difficulty in raising arachnids for their silk. To address this issue, a research and development effort by the University of Notre Dame, University of Wyoming and Kraig Biocraft Laboratories has succeeded in producing transgenic silkworms capable of spinning artificial spider silks.

“This research represents a significant breakthrough in the development of superior silk fibres for both medical and non-medical applications,” says Malcolm J. Fraser Jr., a Notre Dame professor of biological sciences. “The generation of silk fibres having the properties of spider silks has been one of the important goals in materials science.”

Natural spider silks have a number of unusual physical properties, including significantly higher tensile strength and elasticity than naturally spun silkworm fibres. The artificial spider silks produced in these transgenic silkworms have similar properties of strength and flexibility to native spider silk.

Silk fibres have many current and possible future biomedical applications, such as use as fine suture materials, improved wound healing bandages, or natural scaffolds for tendon and ligament repair or replacement. Spider silk-like fibres may also have applications beyond biomedical uses, such as in bulletproof vests, strong and lightweight structural fabrics, a new generation athletic clothing and improved automobile airbags.

More information on the research is available from the University of Notre Dame.

A video detailing the technology is available on YouTube.

Below, are a few instances of spider-silk–related posts on medtechinsider:

Scientists Mimic Spider Silk Using Metabolically Engineered Bacteria
Humidity Powers Artificial Muscles Formed from Spider Silk
Researchers Fuse Spider Silk with Metal

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