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Thursday, October 14, 2010


Spider-Worm, Spider-Worm, Does whatever a Spider-Worm does

Scientists Create Super Strong 'Spider Silk' With Transgenic Breed
First came Spider-Man -- now come spider worms.

Scientists at the University of Notre Dame have inserted spiders' genes into silkworms, creating a "transgenic" breed of worm that could be capable of mass-producing superstrong silk.

"We nearly doubled the strength of the silkworm's silk," Dr. Malcolm Fraser, a researcher and professor of biological science at the University of Notre Dame, told AOL News.

Spider silk is a coveted material known for its strength and flexibility. But while textile makers have learned to harvest large amounts of silk from silkworms, they haven't been able to domesticate silk-producing spiders -- keeping superstrong spider silks off the market.

But Fraser's findings could change all that.

By using "piggyBac" -- a piece of DNA called a "transposon" that was discovered by Fraser -- experts from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Wyoming, and Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc. were able to insert a bit of spider DNA into silkworms' cells.

"Using my piggyBac transposon, we were able to introduce an artificial gene that encodes a spiderlike silk protein into silkworms so that it's expressed in the silk gland specifically," Fraser explained. "It then becomes part of the structural component of the silk fiber that the silkworms produce."

When these "transgenic" silkworms make their cocoons, they use a combination of silkworm silk and artificial spider silk that has greater strength and elasticity than ordinary silkworm silk.

Outside of the lab, the material could find any number of uses -- from athletic clothing to warfare.

"I see it going anywhere that's profitable," Fraser said with a laugh. "I particularly favor commercial uses such as ultrastrong lightweight fabric, structural fabric, bulletproof vests or medical uses."

The material could play a big role in medicine, where a strong, flexible material might be used in making finer sutures, better healing bandages and even "natural scaffolds for tendon and ligament repair or replacement," according to a statement released by the scientists.

"One of the things that people don't recognize off the bat is that silkworm silk has already been used as a suture material, therefore FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approval will probably be easier," Fraser noted.

If the silk industry is receptive, we could be wearing superstrong neckties and bulletproof underwear soon.

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