GM silk worms make Spiderman web closer to reality
Posted by Xeno on January 4, 2012
US researchers have created silkworms that are genetically modified to spin much stronger silk.
Writing in the PNAS journal, scientists from the University of Wyoming say that their eventual aim is to produce silk from worms that has the toughness of spider silk.
In weight-for-weight terms, spider silk is stronger than steel.
Comic book hero Spiderman generated spider silk to snare bad guys and swing among the city’s skyscrapers.
Researchers have been trying to reproduce such silk for decades.
But it is unfeasible to “farm” spiders for the commercial production of their silk because the arachnids don’t produce enough of it – coupled with their proclivity for eating each other.
Silk worms, however, are easy to farm and produce vast amounts of silk – but the material is fragile.
Researchers have tried for years to get the best of both worlds – super-strong silk in industrial quantities – by transplanting genes from spiders into worms. But the resulting genetically modified worms have not produced enough spider silk until now.
GM worms produced by a team led by Professor Don Jarvis of Wyoming University seem to be producing a composite of worm and spider silk in large amounts – which the researchers say is just as tough as spider silk.
There are concerns, though, about creating GM worms for industrial applications in case they escape into the wild. But according to Professor Guy Poppy of Southampton University, they would not pose an environmental threat and he believes the benefits would outweigh any risk.
“It’s hard to see how a silkworm producing spider silk would have any advantage in nature,” he said. …
The silk worms we have now only eat mulberry leaves. Some people eat these silk worms. The new GM silk worms with spider thread, which are more social than spiders, may discover they can join together and spin a huge communal web around Professor Guy Poppy of Southampton University before digesting him. That would be one advantage in nature of a GM silkworm. Just kidding. What would probably happen is they would all die because the cocoon they would spin with strong spider silk would trap them forever.
About the image:
The installation shown … was made by a design collective called numen/foruse, in an old stock exchange building in Vienna. The group used one hundred pounds of clear packing tape, or 117,000 feet of the stuff from 530 rolls. And it wasn’t the group’s first such creation. The near future will bring new installations of increasingly large sizes in Berlin, Frankfurt, and the Croatian coast.