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Biotech

Genetically Engineered Silkworms Spin Spider Silk 188

Posted by timothy
from the waiting-for-the-spider-silk-boxers dept.
disco_tracy writes "Silkworms have been modified to produce spider silk, creating a fabric that could be used in everything from bulletproof clothing to artificial tendons." For some reason, this is far less revolting to me than the idea of spider silk being milked out of goats.
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Genetically Engineered Silkworms Spin Spider Silk

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:00AM (#33904466)
    Does whatever a spider, um...
  • I am usually very critical of GMO tech but even I have to say this is cool.
    • Re:Cool (Score:4, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:11AM (#33904522) Homepage Journal

      Why? It's the most cutting edge technology in the world.. I don't know how you can call yourself a geek and not be at least marginally interested in it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by c0lo (1497653)

        It's the most cutting edge technology in the world..

        For this specific case, I reckon qualifying this as the "best-protection-against-cutting-edges technology" would apply.

        • Re:Cool (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Hylandr (813770) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:24AM (#33904584) Homepage
          The Mithril vest could become a reality again! I can't wait. and I am really glad they didn't do the Spider - Goats. Had a hard enough time getting rid of those things with my faithful Sting...

          - Dan.
          • Re:Cool (Score:4, Funny)

            by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday October 15, 2010 @08:14AM (#33906606) Homepage Journal

            The Mithril vest could become a reality again!

            This reminds me...can anyone explain how spider silk can be made into bullet-proof vests?

            When someone starts shooting at my house, I don't immediately think "Let me go find a spider-web to hide behind". At my house. When the shooting starts.

            • Re:Cool (Score:4, Informative)

              by imamac (1083405) on Friday October 15, 2010 @08:24AM (#33906680)
              Of course not. And a few fibers of kevlar won't either. Put together tightly makes a bit of difference, though.
              • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

                And a few fibers of kevlar won't either. Put together tightly makes a bit of difference, though.

                I wasn't trying to be a smart-ass, I was really curious.

                For that matter, I don't see how fibers of kevlar make a bulletproof vest, either. I've got to do a little reading, I guess...

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by SatanicPuppy (611928) *

                  Common silk is reasonably bullet resistant. You can shoot a low caliber bullet at a silk hanky (held by the top) and the bullet will push the silk aside rather than penetrate it. Spider silk is much stronger, ergo, better for this sort of thing.

                  Kevlar body armor is generally formed of kevlar cloth sewn in layers, backed by hard metal or ceramic plates. The bullet will absolutely penetrate, but (generally) won't go all the way through.

                  A material with a higher tensile strength will offer better protection bec

                  • Common silk is reasonably bullet resistant. You can shoot a low caliber bullet at a silk hanky (held by the top) and the bullet will push the silk aside rather than penetrate it.

                    That's true of a cotton handkerchief as well. Being "pushed aside" but the shockwave off the bullet is NOT equivalent to "bullet resistant". If you're standing behind the "hanky" while the bullet is pushing it aside, you're still going to get hit.

                  • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                    by AI0867 (868277)

                    Ceramic (or metal) plates are only used when you need to go up against rifle rounds. Standard vests that can protect against handguns typically consist of many layers of kevlar bonded together with resin to provide stiffness. (so it actually stops the bullet, rather than being dragged along with it into your body)

                  • by tibman (623933)

                    I'm sure that a bullet could puncture a silk cloth if it was held in a frame. But i have heard that it's possible that if someone is shot/stabbed while wearing a silk shirt, the knife will still pass into their body.. just not puncture the silk. So the victim will still have a deep hole in them but no hole in the silk shirt.

                    There is a similar effect with bullet proof vests (w/o plates).. the vest will usually deform and push an inch or two into the body (possibly cracking ribs and severely brusing) but no

                • Other posters have covered the concept of spreading the force and deformation, for a quick example imagine this:

                  Pick up a piece standard letter paper. Stretch it out and you could easily punch through it, or even just poke a hole through it with your finger (ie: bullet). Now take an entire ream of paper (200-400 sheets?) and attempt to do the same.

                  Kevlar has the advantage that it has longer fibers than paper, and is stronger. Therefore you don't need an entire ream-thick stack of kevlar, but only several

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by mcgrew (92797) *

              Gram for gram, spider webs are stronger than steel (or at least have more tensils strength).

      • Re:Cool (Score:5, Insightful)

        by EdIII (1114411) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:23AM (#33904574)

        Why?

        For a lot of reasons. It's being pursued without any caution whatsoever. Look at the Nazi scientists at Monsanto. Nearly killed the Monarch butterflies and have actively researched and implemented "death codes" into their projects to protect intellectual property that should have never been granted. Technology aside, they are far more damaging than the entertainment Mafiaa to the world with their lawsuits, strong arm tactics, reduced seed diversity, and just plain extortion of farmers the world over.

        Cool technology to be sure, but the people that are involved in it certainly don't seem to have humanity's interests at heart.

        Not to mention I feel that not enough research is really conducted to determine if the GMO food they are producing is really healthy in the first place. What are the real affects to humans eating it? Animals eating it? Affect on the environment in which it is grown (Monarch Butterflies again)?

        BTW, the poster said critical of the technology, and did not indicate any level of disinterest. I am greatly interested in GMO technology, but pursued correctly and safely and absolutely without any ridiculous BS of the deathcodes being inside it..

        You don't have to be crazy or disinterested in GMO to be highly critical of companies like Monsanto. I am sure someone will claim that I am trolling, ignorant, and misinformed of GMO. Perhaps that is true. My statements regarding Monsanto though, stand on well-known facts. Just maybe, maybe, GMO might be more accepted if Monsanto had never been formed as a company.

        • Re:Cool (Score:5, Informative)

          by PinkyGigglebrain (730753) on Friday October 15, 2010 @02:13AM (#33905052)
          FYI, the Monarch butterfly report showing harm was discredited due to the concentrations of pollen placed on the milkweed. It was way more than would normally by found in the wild.

          And thank your for for the support.

          That said, here are some links you might find informative;

          Monsanto [sourcewatch.org]
          more Monsanto [naturalnews.com]
          Yet more Monsanto (busy aren't they) [vanityfair.com]
          intersting site [gmwatch.org]
          Canola [npr.org]
          GM canola in the wild [scientificamerican.com]
          Possible wipe out of terrestrial plant life [purefood.org]
          another one [biotech-info.net]

          Have fun reading.

          _
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Rogerborg (306625)

          Look at the Nazi scientists at Monsanto.

          To be fair, Monsanto has changed recently: wearing SS uniforms in the lab is no longer strictly mandatory.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          You make some good points.

          It also occurs to me that there's been genetically modified products in the food supply in the US for years now. The "high-fructose corn syrup" that's in everything you can buy at a 7-11 is almost always from genetically modified corn (because that's the best way to sell it into the US food supply). And it's interesting that right about the time this started obesity went out of fucking control in America.

          I'm not saying there's a correlation, but I would not be surprised to find t

          • I'm completely indifferent about GMO food, but even before GMO corn, they were using cultivars that you would never use to eat for HFCS. It's not anything new and if there is a correlation I'd wager it with the HFCS, not the fact that it was sourced from GMO corn. Look at the refining process, the "corn" becomes not very quickly.

            • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

              That's a good point, thanks.

              There's got to be something. We're starting to see a different kind of fat people in the past few decades, the kind of fat that you can't get to just by eating too much.

              I know people who have gotten fat from eating too much, and it doesn't look like the kind of Jabba the Hut fat that you see if you walk around a Wal-Mart or ride the #20 Madison bus. And little kids. Hell, they haven't had enough time to eat enough to get as fat as they are.

              There's something happening in our fo

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Monsanto has NEVER been concerned about the environmental effects of their chemicals (or genetic engineering for that matter). I grew up 2 miles south of the Sauget plant, and before the Clean Air Act you literally could not breathe driving past; the air burned one's lungs. You had to have the windows rolled up driving past, even on a blistering hot day (and cars didn't have AC back then).

          Monsanto is a very, very evil company. They're worse than Sony, and after I was victimized by their XCP rootkit I hate S

          • But at least Sony isn't ruining the environment like Monsanto is.

            Well, they might be ruining the environment, but it's a side effect, not the business model. ;)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by davev2.0 (1873518)
          Citation Needed

          Honestly, you sound like a paranoid, Luddite, conspiracy theorist.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        Actually I'm very interested in GM and as a result I have done quite a bit of research on the subject.

        My criticism of it usually is in regards to how it is being applied with little, if any, real regard to its impact on the environment. Also a concern is the moral, legal and cultural ramifications of the technology. Particularly in situations where profit is being placed above responsible use. I mean come on, patents on a string of amino acids?

        And there are too many questions, to many inconclusive or
        • Re:Cool (Score:4, Insightful)

          by c6gunner (950153) on Friday October 15, 2010 @09:29AM (#33907168)

          Getting your science info from a site called "purefood.org" (which links to a "study" funded by the Green Party) is generally a bad idea. The modified strain of K. Planticola (SDF20) was shown to be unsuitable because the byproducts could not be used in the manner intended, not because it was going to cause Global Disaster(tm). The claims made in that article go way beyond what the actual studies showed, and aren't supported by the data.

          Scaremongering FUD != science.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by YaHooL (1745114)

      I am usually very critical of GMO tech but even I have to say this is cool.

      With great GMO tech, comes great responsibility.

      • Indeed, hence my usual caution in regards to GMO.

        When you have the power to destroy something you have responsibility for it. Like it or not.

        I'm just glade this is not the sort of GMO that they would want to release into general environment. Considering the near wipe out of terrestrial plants [biotech-info.net] back in 1992 I think letting this tech out of the lab is generally a very bed idea right now.
    • by digitig (1056110)
      When I'm cleaning the house it's hard for me to believe that there's not enough spider silk in the world already.
  • by rsborg (111459) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:08AM (#33904504) Homepage
    From the Alpha Centauri [wikimedia.org] archives:

    "Until quite recently, spider silk had the highest tensile strength of any substance known to man, and the name Silksteel pays homage to the arachnid for good reason."

    Commissioner Pravin Lal
    "U.N. Scientific Survey"

    Some of the best (sometimes prophetic) fictional quotes ever.

    • by Dyinobal (1427207)
      Alpha Centauri was great and it was the small things that made it so great.
    • "Remember, genes are NOT blueprints. This means you can't, for example, insert "the genes for an elephant's trunk" into a giraffe and get a giraffe with a trunk. There are no genes for trunks. What you CAN do with genes is chemistry, since DNA codes for chemicals. For instance, we can in theory splice the native plants' talent for nitrogen fixation into a terran plant."

      Academician Prokhor Zakharov
      "Nonlinear Genetics"

      • by mike2R (721965)
        "We hold life to be sacred, but we also know the foundation of life consists in a stream of codes not so different from the successive frames of a watchvid. Why then cannot we cut one code short here, and start another there? Is life so fragile that it can withstand no tampering? Does the sacred brook no improvement?"

        Chairman Sheng-ji Yang
        Dynamics of Mind
  • Almost there (Score:4, Informative)

    by Entropy98 (1340659) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:08AM (#33904508) Homepage

    "Compared to normal spider silk, it's not as strong," said Malcolm Fraser, a scientist from the University of Notre Dame. "But we are confident that, this being our first attempt, that we will be able to tweak the system to bring the system closer to the strength of true spider silk."
    --
    windows media codec pack [softpedia.com]

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      "Compared to normal spider silk, it's not as strong," said Malcolm Fraser, a scientist from the University of Notre Dame. "But we are confident that, this being our first attempt, that we will be able to tweak the system to bring the system closer to the strength of true spider silk.">

      Double the points if the silk worms will start catching flies instead of eating 104 kg of mulberry leaves for each kilo of silk.

      • by ultranova (717540) on Friday October 15, 2010 @06:31AM (#33906054)

        Double the points if the silk worms will start catching flies instead of eating 104 kg of mulberry leaves for each kilo of silk.

        Triple the points if the worms escape, block the doors to the laboratory with unbreakable spider silk sheet, then eat the scientists.

        Quadruple them if they somehow mutate into an army of Shelobs and terrorize the general population.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mark-t (151149)
      What I'm wondering is how long it will be before they can get something working that is *stronger* than spider silk.
      • Spectra cable is right on par strengthwise, but it's a chemical nightmare to make compared to silk. You don't have to truck away thousands of gallons of spent sulfuric acid. Silk isn't rejected by the body. And if it can be made in the right organisms it can be pretty cheap. Goats or plants would make the fiber at a very reasonable price point, silkworms are still orders of magnitude better than spiders. As spiders eat the silk and each other.
      • by gurps_npc (621217)
        We can already make several substances that are stronger than spider silk, but it is very expensive.
    • Opening cocoons (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LongearedBat (1665481) on Friday October 15, 2010 @02:52AM (#33905214)
      So, when silk worms finally do make silk as strong as spiders' silk, then will those silk moths be able to open their own cocoons?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Spy der Mann (805235)

        So, when silk worms finally do make silk as strong as spiders' silk, then will those silk moths be able to open their own cocoons?

        That's a good thing. It's literally embedding a natural limiter for a genetic experiment. The stronger the silk, the less probable the organism will be able to escape and reproduce outside. If the thing does reproduce, I expect the offspring that will make it will be the ones with weaker silk, bringing balance to nature again. Unless, of course, stronger silk gives them an unknown reproductive advantage, which I really hope doesn't happen. (Crap, now I really got scared).

      • by vegiVamp (518171)
        Hopefully not, as that inability will keep them from spreading in the wild :-)
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        So, when silk worms finally do make silk as strong as spiders' silk, then will those silk moths be able to open their own cocoons?

        It's usually easier to cultivate silkworms because after the cocoon is made you want to collect them before they escape (and ruin the cocoon - you want unbroken thread). The process of silk making is you basically boil the cocoon to kill the worm inside, then you very varefully find the end of it and unwind the cocoon. It's a pretty manual process, but when they spin silk they of

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        fwiw, silk is actually harvested before the worms break out of their cocoons by boiling the whole thing to melt the worm inside and loosen up the silk. But the actual process of breaking out of the cocoon isn't a strength issue, it's a chemical process where they secrete an enzyme to break down the thread. If the thread is chemically similar, then it wouldn't be a problem.

        If the enzyme does still work, they should manufacture that stuff in spray cans - it would make cleaning the corners of my room a hell of

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by excelsior_gr (969383)
        The cocoons need to be intact in order for silk of any kind to be produced. The silk moths are not supposed to open their cocoons in the first place. Usually the silkworm pupae are killed while still inside the intact cocoon by heating them.
  • by nofx_3 (40519) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:21AM (#33904558)

    "They're takin our jerbs!"

    -The Spider Goats

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:22AM (#33904572) Homepage Journal
    Using that silk should produce extra-sharp scytes...maybe you could even skip a lot of the required steps and sharpen them next directly with moonlight.
  • Relief (Score:2, Funny)

    by dark grep (766587)
    Well that's a relief. I much prefer the idea of a Really Big Silk Worm than a Really Big Spider to spin the cable for the space elevator. I for one welcome our new silk moth overlords.
  • somebody tries to tape these things to their wrists and jump out of a window in a leotard...
  • Somewhere in China, a general is pleading, "Mr. President, we must not allow a silkworm spider silk gap! "
  • Spider silk is already on the world market. I got a nice carpet on the living room floor - made in Belgium.
  • FEH (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:15AM (#33905560)

    I am tired of the ridiculous "ten times stronger than Kevlar" or "ten times stronger than steel" and such garbage.

    For the record: Kevlar is not particularly strong, compared to other high-end materials. What it is though, is ductile - that is, absorbs a nice amount of energy while being plastically deformed. Spider silk does this even better.

    Steel can be had in strengths that vary between as low as 200 MPa (bad cast iron) to 3000 MPa (piano wire).
    Kevlar is somewhere at 800 MPa or so - stronger than regular construction steel (235-420 MPa) but weaker than hardened sheet steel (900-1300 MPa).
    The strongest material you may encounter outside of a laboratory is glass fiber, which can reach strengths of up to 5000 MPa.
    Carbon fiber is weaker (~2000 MPa) than glass fiber, but it is more rigid - which is the sought after property most of the time.
    Titanium, while having some nice properties, isn't incredibly strong either - around 1000 MPa at best.

    Even when considering density, steel usually holds its own quite well - especially when designing things that are supposed to have a certain rigidity, where steel really shines - and while exotic materials may have advantages they are never along the line of "ten times", more like "two times" at best.

    I'm a mechanical design engineer and I am really not amused when people show me their titanium golf clubs and claim that it is ten times stronger than steel an cost a hundred times more than gold, or other preposterous claims like that. Titanium is $100/kg, tops.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      Another good example of this is aluminium or titanium bike frames vs steel bike frames. Because rigidity is rather important in bikes, steel frames hold their own extremely well against the more exotic materials. The weight benefits of aluminium and titanium are offset by the fact that they have to make the tubes far thicker.

      • Re:FEH (Score:5, Interesting)

        by zippthorne (748122) on Friday October 15, 2010 @07:01AM (#33906216) Journal

        Similar thing with compressed gas cylinders (specifically scuba tanks). The wall thickness is *much* thinner for a steel tank than an aluminum one of similar pressures, so for the same mass of air and you can get away with a smaller tank and/or lower pressure. The resulting vessels end up being very close to the same mass despite aluminum's on-paper advantage in strength-to-weight ratio, which is killed by the maximum outer diameter that people are comfortable with handling.

        I'm still trying to figure out why steel scuba tanks cost *more* than aluminum ones, though, looking at the spot prices for each of those metals.

        • by Creedo (548980)
          What I find amusing is how many shops won't touch well maintained steel 72 SCUBA tanks. Ah, well, cheaper tanks for me.
        • Scuba tanks are not made of simple steel, they are an especially tough alloy that can handle the pressure cycles well. That factors into the cost.

        • Re:FEH (Score:5, Informative)

          by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:56AM (#33908900)

          I'm still trying to figure out why steel scuba tanks cost *more* than aluminum ones, though, looking at the spot prices for each of those metals.

          Aluminum is easier to work with. Lower melting point, it's less demanding for machining, and a few other factors.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Churnits (1922258)
        But to make a steel frame lighter than those made out of aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre the tube walls need to be so thin that they can be crushed between two fingers.
        • But to make a steel frame lighter than those made out of aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre the tube walls need to be so thin that they can be crushed between two fingers.

          Well... the thing is, there are two different goals in bike frame design: light weight and stiffness. (I'm presuming we don't care about durability.) Stiffness is, for the sake of this argument, a function of the cube of the diameter of the tubing and the specific modulus of elasticity of the material being used. The revolutionary idea Gary Klein had was that by using aluminum, with 1/3 the specific modulus of elasticity of steel, you only had increase the tubing diameter by the cube root of three, to ge

    • by Timmmm (636430)

      Titanium is $100/kg, tops.

      Yeah but how much does it cost to machine?

    • That's it, I'm getting a bullet proof vest out of knitted piano wire!

    • by Jartan (219704)

      I'm not sure I understand your argument. When we discuss strength in this context we obviously mean "suitability for a bulletproof vest" or "suitability to make a space elevator" etc. Strength does not equal MPa.

      • Well suitability to make an space elevator is tensile strenght, isn't it? That is measured in MPa. Anyway, the GP didn't care to clarify what kind of strength he was talking about, and I guess mixed all of them up.

        As a side note, I'd be quite suspicious of a suspension bridge made of fiberglass...

        • by Jartan (219704)

          No it's tensile strength AND weight along with at least some attention to actual volume. It doesn't matter what unit the GP intended because there isn't a single unit that determines "strength" in this context period.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      That's odd, according to Wikipedia steel tops out around 2700 MPa (similar to what you claim), but spider silk tops out around 27,000 MPa, or 10 times that of steel, though your run-of-the-mill spider will only produce around 1,000 MPa silk. Kevlar is about the same as the strongest steel (around 2,700 MPa), UHMDWPE fibers (Spectra) are a bit stronger. Piano wire only hits about 2500 MPa (pretty good for steel, but not the best).

      Titanium is as strong as low-grade steel (430-ish MPa), but is 45% lighter.

  • Silkworms are looking more promising than goats because they have the body parts to actually spin the silk. With goats, the silk gets filtered from the milk (which hopefully is disposed of) and then has to be spun via some post-processing technology. The best this has resulted in are threads that are around an order of magnitude thicker than spiders can manage, according to the highly-esteemed Wikipedia.
  • I read another article on this. To make sure the gene mutation took, they tied it to another one that makes the silkworms themselves glow when hit with a black light, and their eyes glow red. At least there's a reason these mutants have glowing red eyes!

  • Some of it is stronger that other. As far as I know there are only a few examples of spider textiles -- http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/spider-silk/ [wired.com].
  • What I want is bulletproof tendons and artificial clothing. How about it, science?

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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