Science Market Update

Utah State Researcher Uses Genetics to Produce Spider Silk Using Goats

Posted by BCI Staff on Thu, Aug 11, 2011

A Utah State University researcher has genetically modified goats to produce spider silk. Or he almost has.  The goats carry two proteins that allow spiders to weave their silk.  The proteins, injected into embryos, come out in the goats' milk.

Extremely lightweight, and stronger than steel, spider silk has long been thought of as something that will have thousands of uses from repairing torn tendons and ligaments to creating low impact airbags to fashioning low-weight, highly durable military parachutes and other equipment. It will have thousands of uses-- once researchers discover how it can be harvested for commercial purposes. 

research scientist

(Image courtesy of Tomfriedel on Wikimedia Commons)

USU professor, Randy Lewis, has been working to find a commercially viable way to produce spider silk for over three decades. 

"It became clear you can't farm spiders," Lewis said, "They are cannibalistic and territorial. Spiders are not like silkworms, which you can throw in a box with mulberry leaves. There was no way to collect spider silk in a commercial way."

research scientist

(Randy Lewis in his lab; image courtesy of Utah State University)

That's why Lewis turned to goats. Originally he teamed up with a Canadian company.  "We provided the genes and they provided the tech to put it in the goat," Lewis said.  But then the company collapsed, and Lewis was stranded.

Now he has teamed up with USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, a long term, state funded initiative that invests in science research and innovation. 

Robert Behunin, vice president for Commercialization and Regional Development at USTAR said, "We are please Randy has joined the USTAR facility. The commercial applications of Randy's research are far-reaching and have enormous potential."

James A. MacMahon, USU dean of science, said, "We are very excited to have Randy here."  MacMahon believes that Lewis' work will lead to products in the future.

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Tags: Utah, Utah State University, Southwest, animal science

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