Genetically engineered silkworms spin stronger spider threads

These silkworms may soon be eclipsed by genetically-modified cousins spinning stronger silk. Image: Shutterstock

If you cross a spider with a silkworm, you get stronger silk that could be used for bulletproof vests, athletic clothing and bandages.

Spider silks have a number of unusual properties, such as higher tensile strength and elasticity that is superior to natural silk fibres. Reproducing these characteristics in natural silks has been an important goal in material science… and it seems that they have just succeeded.

Until now, only a small amount of spider silk has been artificially reproduced in a laboratory. But Notre Dame University, the University of Wyoming and Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, Inc., have created genetically engineered silkworms by inserting DNA removed from spiders, using a genetic engineering tool called piggyBac.

PiggyBac consists of a piece of DNA, known as a transpoon, which inserts itself into the genetic machinery of a cell. The new transgenic silkworms spin their cocoons from a combination of silkworm silk and spider silk, which has very similar properties to those of the spider webs.

Silk already has a number of biomedical uses, such as improved bandages for healing wounds or sutures. The fibres from this spider-silkworm combination may have a number of additional applications, such as bullet proof vests, improved airbags in cars, stronger lightweight fabrics and athletic clothing.

[via ScienceDaily]

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