Transgenic Spidergoats Brief
November 24, 2013 1:55 AM   Subscribe

Spider webs are incredibly strong and flexible. It’s no surprise, then, that spider silk proteins may someday form durable artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders. Six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. These silk fibers have very different mechanical properties that are so effective they have changed very little over millions of years. How to synthetically develop these silks is one focus of Lewis’ research. The secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use “factories” designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scale-able and efficient. Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and transgenic silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins used to create spider silk. Spider silk is 100 times stronger than natural ligaments and 10 times stronger than natural tendons; it is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon.
A 6min brief on the work being done in Laramie, WY whereby spider silk is being spun from goat milk. SPIDERGOATS

Synthetic biology and the rise of the 'spider-goats'
Horizon presenter Adam Rutherford looks at the advances in synthetic biology and genetic engineering that have resulted in, among other things, computer-made life forms and cancer assassin cells. That Horizon clip

Also, farming spiders for silk is not strictly impossible but it is dangerous, not economically viable, and not appropriate for medical uses.
posted by Blasdelb (23 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
We've done some studies that show that you can put it in the body and you don't get inflammation and get ill.

You might be a geek if this sentence immediately causes you to Google "spider silk primary sequence".

In case you're wondering...
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:39 AM on November 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

From the title, I was hoping that I could get an amazingly comfy (and scientifically fascinating) pair of silk underpants as a holiday gift. But you have dashed my hopes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:01 AM on November 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

There was/is an artist artist collective that took its name from this... Whatthehellwasthatagain... Right, Goatsilk.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:40 AM on November 24, 2013

Cool stuff - thanks for posting. The ligament application is interesting - get it right and suddenly athletes will have a measurable advantage by swapping their natural tendons for new ones. Pitchers, I seem to recall, benefit from that kind of stuff. I believe runners would do too.

So you have a therapy that a sportsperson would need for normal quality of life (after the damage that competing in national and international level sports will do to their bodies) which would also give them a distinct benefit on the field. Do you test for it? How can you test for it in an non-invasive fashion? Will athletes be expected to have the operation when they get into the top flights?
posted by YAMWAK at 3:59 AM on November 24, 2013

posted by exogenous at 5:10 AM on November 24, 2013

Interesting - last I had heard the attempts at spidergoats had largely been given up because of things mentioned in the article Kid Charlemagne linked above (which is so cool, by the way - thanks), namely that the yields were low and that they still haven't figured out how to get the proteins into the proper tertiary and quaternary structure so as to have the properties that they have when spun by spiders. Basically the problem is that proteins are cool beasties which can adopt different shapes, both individually and in association with other proteins, but the specific chemical and physical environment of the spider's silk glands are what puts them together into "silk," whereas when we get them out of goats, it's the same primary amino acid chain, sure, but it doesn't have the same amazing properties as silk because it's in a different configuration.

Is it just such a superior material that even the sub-par structures we're able to make are still good enough for all the uses they're talking about? Or is this guy just producing the proteins as part of ongoing research into improving our ability to assemble them?

I absolutely adore this sort of thing. It's so fascinating!
posted by po at 5:45 AM on November 24, 2013

Imagining Mountain Goats nimbly climbing along a giant web strung between the buildings of New York.
posted by sammyo at 6:07 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came here looking for a story about the most awesome underwear ever.
posted by srboisvert at 6:08 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does whatever a spider goat does.
posted by emelenjr at 6:12 AM on November 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

The biggest production challenge may not be the biochemistry, but the complex extrusion machines required to produce different types of silk. More details and SEM images at Silk: the spider's success story and Spider silk production.
posted by cenoxo at 6:28 AM on November 24, 2013

I am having no luck trying to find an author for a quote that seems everywhere with some variations:

mussels produce glue that sticks to anything and works underwater, spiders spin silk thread that is five times stronger than steel, abalone grow a shell tougher than any ceramics

which is a great sound bite but was the first person who used it just making stuff up?
posted by bukvich at 6:50 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

All I want is a sea silk cloak.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:18 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by zscore at 8:49 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is another previously - I can't find it, but the phrase "I, for one, welcome our spider goat overlords" came from SOMEWHERE.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:04 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating stuff. Thanks for posting.
posted by arcticseal at 9:40 AM on November 24, 2013

If you are like Roald Dahl's Uncle Oswald, of course, you will damn the expense and have your own spider silk gathered, spun, dyed and woven.
posted by 0rison at 1:13 PM on November 24, 2013

I thought this was something from Oryx and Crake.
posted by gentian at 5:33 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Spidersilk Tapestry. Amazing material. I hope they find a way to make it efficiently.
posted by pashdown at 5:56 PM on November 24, 2013

I thought this was something from Oryx and Crake.

Yeah, well, I got to the mention of this in that book yesterday, when this was posted. Hella unnerving.
posted by NoraReed at 11:52 PM on November 24, 2013

Oryx and Crake

The Atwood novel dates to 2003, and I recall reading about transgenic spider-goats in a bunch of science blogs a couple years earlier (2000-2001), so I think it's a clear-cut case of Atwood paying attention to the cutting-edge weird science of the time and not the other way around.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:08 AM on November 25, 2013

Oh, I've no doubt of that. It was just kind of creepy to be informed about this from two sources at once on the same day. Especially since most of the other genetic modifications in that book are way more out there. And that book is pretty creepy to begin with, so I was predisposed by virtue of having a creepy book in my head to be creeped out.
posted by NoraReed at 6:31 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they could do this with dairy cows, it might turn out to be more lucrative in some countries than direct government subsidies for dairy farms.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:27 AM on November 25, 2013

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