Friday, December 13, 2013

Spiders Paired with Unlikely Partner to Make Silk by Elaine Lockey

Spiders use their silk for building webs to catch prey, as a safety or drag line if they are spiders that roam, spider "dens" (think orb spiders) and more. Spider silk, a protein fiber, is stronger than steel. Humans discovered the benefits of silk thousands of years ago for fishing lines, the healing of wounds and blood clotting. In more recent years silk has been used in body armor, fishing nets, a thread for optical crosshairs such as telescopes in WWII, beautiful cloth, and violin strings!

However, as you can imagine, it is very difficult and time consuming to harvest enough silk for most applications. So researchers are looking at a host of other ways to extract silk or create silk more efficiently.

That's where goats come in. Yes, goats. Through biotechnology, transgenic goats can produce spider silk proteins in their milk. Amounts average 1-2 grams of protein per liter of milk. However, the silk still does not fully retain the properties of natural spider silk. The following video explains the science behind this strange pairing and should reduce any horrific images in your head about what this looks like.

The science is moving quickly as researchers have also had some success with genetically altering silkworms to produce spider silk and also using bacteria to produce spidroin, the spider's dragline.

top photo courtesy of

For more information on spiders and spider silk research, check out these links: