US researchers have created silkworms that are genetically modified to spin much stronger silk…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.
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…
The main applications could be in the the medical sector creating stronger sutures, implants and ligaments. But the GM spider silk could also be used as a greener substitute for toughened plastics, which require a lot of energy to produce.
Bravo! A product used as an example for decades as a natural product stronger and potentially more useful than anything produced heretofore by industry.
Poisonally, I’d love to see what sort of composite might be made, what strength-to-weight ratio might be achieved by replacing carbon-fibre with this silk.
Probably something sturdier than this :)
Talk about a sensitive mission: The Army is experimenting with heavy silk underwear to find a way to protect soldiers’ groins and abdomens from bombs that they step on in Afghanistan, where militants have been planting improvised explosive devices by the thousands.
Protection of troops’ lower bodies has become a priority in the past year as more soldiers and Marines patrol on foot to push out Taliban fighters and protect villagers, the Pentagon says.
“A modest amount of protection can make a big difference in men being able to depart the battlefield intact,” says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute…
The Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center is experimenting with garments that protect a crotch and abdomen, says Col. William Cole, Army program manager for soldier protection and individual equipment.
Among the items are heavy silk underwear that might mitigate some wounds, General Peter Fuller says. Thompson says silk makes sense for protection. It is strong and dense and could provide some protection from a blast.
Weight and comfort of protection, however, are concerns for soldiers who already wear body armor and haul weapons and ammunition, Cole says.
Seems to me silk would be pretty comfy – even heavyweight. Got to be better than long john woolies.
All the years I spent hiking and hillwalking, silk underwear was frequently used as a comfort layer between me and the heavy scratchy stuff.
A research and development effort…has succeeded in producing transgenic silkworms capable of spinning artificial spider silks.
“This research represents a significant breakthrough in the development of superior silk fibers for both medical and non-medical applications,” said Malcolm J. Fraser Jr…. “The generation of silk fibers 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 fibers. The artificial spider silks produced in these transgenic silkworms have similar properties of strength and flexibility to native spider silk.
Silk fibers 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 fibers 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…
Fraser, with the assistance of University of Wyoming researcher Randy Lewis, a biochemist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on spider silk, and Don Jarvis, a noted molecular geneticist who specializes in insect protein production, genetically engineered silkworms in which they incorporated specific DNAs taken from spiders…
Since silkworms are already a commercially viable silk production platform, these genetically engineered silkworms effectively solve the problem of large scale production of engineered protein fibers in an economically practical way.
Bravo! I doubt if we even have to worry about vegan Luddites fretting over people eating these silkworms.
Cripes. Materials engineers/structural designers will be having a ball.