Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech

Genetically Modifying Silk Worms For Super Silk 129

Posted by Soulskill
from the does-whatever-a-spider-can dept.
New submitter davidshenba sends this quote from the BBC: "U.S. researchers have created silkworms that are genetically modified to spin much stronger silk (abstract). 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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Genetically Modifying Silk Worms For Super Silk

Comments Filter:
  • I, for one, (Score:3, Funny)

    by zoom-ping (905112) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @06:18AM (#38583204)
    welcome our new super silkworm overlords.
    • by martijnd (148684)

      "It's hard to see how a silkworm producing spider silk would have any advantage in nature," he said.

      You sir, are on to something. This researcher is showing a clear lack of imagination.

      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        "It's hard to see how a silkworm producing spider silk would have any advantage in nature," he said.

        You sir, are on to something. This researcher is showing a clear lack of imagination.

        If only it were conductive like mithril.

      • by meerling (1487879)
        Just let them complete their metamorphosis into spidermoths and terrorize everyone!
        You thought you had problems with spiders before, NOW THEY CAN FLY!!!

        Yeah, I know, this is total fantasy of the lousiest kind, and probably next months Syfy 'original' movie.
    • by jd2112 (1535857)

      welcome our new super silkworm overlords.

      The spiders won't become overlords (unless the move to Mars) although if bitten by one it could potentially turn you into a comic book superhero.

      • by gizmod (931775)

        although if bitten by one it could potentially turn you into a comic book superhero.

        Silkwormman? Somehow that just doesn't sound right.

    • by crdotson (224356)

      Especially when they use it to build a space elevator!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @06:18AM (#38583208)

    Inside the article there was a mention that the GM silk could post a threat to the environment.

    Call me dense, but I just don't get it.

    We are not talking about something that last forever or what, we are talking about silk - something that is totally biodegradable, and some more, the GM material is a combination of silkworm and spider, both exist in nature.

    Anyhoo, congrats to the scientists who come up with this idea.

    • Probably a general fear like most GM issues today.
    • by shione (666388) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @06:43AM (#38583316) Journal

      1. Genetically modified spider escapes into the wild. It mates with other sipders creating a legion of these spiders with super silk. The super silk not only catches normal critters but large animals as well get tangled in the web unable to get out. Hope you all have a Phial from the elves.

      2. New spider silk isn't as sticky as normal spider silk. Spiders die of starvation. Pests grow to plague proportions

      3. Spider spins web in someones doorway. Homeowner is pissed at new wall.

      4. Profit! (GM spider escapes into the wild and mates with spiders in someones backyard. Patent troll finds GM spider and sues homeowner of ip theft and distribution!)

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        in the case of #2, there will be little issue due to this wonderful thing called "Natural Selection". The nice part is, it works, even on unnatural changes.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @09:04AM (#38583964) Journal

        1. Genetically modified spider escapes into the wild

        They're genetically modifying silk worms, not spiders.

        It mates with other sipders creating a legion of these spiders with super silk.

        The silk is the same silk that spiders produce normally - that's the point.

        New spider silk isn't as sticky as normal spider silk

        Spiders produce two kinds of silk (massive oversimplification). The sticky stuff is relatively weak, the non-sticky stuff is used for structural parts of their webs. Go and poke a spiderweb sometime - you'll find some parts stick to you and tear easily, other parts don't stick and are tougher. Presumably the researchers are trying to make silk worms produce the non-sticky variety, as there is little call for silk that sticks to everything and tears very easily.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Go and poke a spiderweb sometime

          Yeah, I'll get right on that.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @11:02AM (#38584840)

          7 types, sir!

          Also, there is much variation between types of spiders with Darwin's Bark spider having the strongest silk of all (drag-line silk from the major ampullate gland)!

          And the biggest research that needs to be done is in microfluidics because it's the pH, tension, and hydration status of silk dope that determine the properties of the fibers (those three affect the folding/alignment motifs that make up the super-structure. Spiders regulate this by the speed at which they pull the silk from their spinnarettes. A stupid silk worm will never be able to match this (they naturally make a triangular fiber, whereas a spider's is round). We're trying to put silk worm genes into corn and other crap, but bacterial cell factories produce the proteins efficiently already.

          • Mod parent up. Sad to see my post with its oversimplification warning sitting at +5 while this one with a much better explanation is at 0.
      • by meerling (1487879)
        I was about to post that you'd completely missed the target since it's about Silkworms, and not spiders, but you're probably getting enough flak as is, and besides, our jokes aren't any better than your tired old meme.
    • by MrLizard (95131)

      Because.... because SCIENCE, that's why! They're tampering in God's domain! There are things man was not meant to know! If it's not 100% safe, it's 100% dangerous, like fire! Fire bad!

      Get with the program, will you?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        ummmm...no.

        GM is not thought of by it's detractors as SCIENCE, but as CORPORATE. GM's enemies are entirely on the Left at the moment. If it's not 100% free, it's 100% profit, and all profit is THEFT!! Oh, and it's probably bad if it escapes from the lab too.Yeah, that.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'd rather not click a link on slashdot that contains the word lemon.

  • Will this make a shirt that only I will be able to wear and if someone tries to steal it it sticks to their hand like the anti theft ink found in department stores?

  • Then everything will be fine.

  • by Magada (741361) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @06:30AM (#38583258) Journal

    Actual quote from the actual fine article:

    their eventual aim is to produce silk from worms that has the toughness of spider silk.

    • by JimWise (1804930)

      Commenter did NOT RTFFA (Read The Full Fine/F*cking Article):

      Smack dab in the middle of the article is the actual quote:

      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.

      • by Magada (741361)

        What he [slashdot.org] said, basically.

        • by JimWise (1804930)

          You are complaining that the submitter did not read the BBC article, when everything in the submission is taken directly from the article. Even the scientific abstract itself states:

          Furthermore, these composite fibers were, on average, tougher than the parental silkworm silk fibers and as tough as native dragline spider silk fibers.

          Now you use someone else's post for your support, which refers to tables and figures that I do not see in the BBC article, and not even in the scientific abstract. You have to pay to access the full scientific paper since it is not in print yet, which I suppose is where the table mentioned is located.

          It is well and good to poi

          • by Magada (741361)

            Had you yourself read the fine article, you would have seen that the claim in the title is significantly watered down, by this statement, uttered by someone who actually read the fine scientific paper, presumably:

            Commenting on the work, Dr Christopher Holland from the University of Oxford, said that the development represented a step toward being able to produce toughened silk commercially.

            "Essentially, what this paper has shown is that they are able to take a component of spider silk and make a silkworm spin it into a fibre alongside its own silk," he said.
            [...]
            They have also managed to show that this composite, which contains bits of spider silk and mainly the silkworms' own silk, has improved mechanical properties."

            formatting mine

            lrn2 reading comprehension, iow

  • by kodiaktau (2351664) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @06:32AM (#38583270) Journal

    Wonder if this is a part of an lead-in [uwyo.edu] on the research.

    Looks like WYU is sitting on a ton of patents [uwyo.edu] around spider silk technologies.

    Nicer pictures of this article can be found at http://inhabitat.com/genetically-modified-silkworms-spin-super-strong-spider-silk-for-bandages-and-bulletproof-vests/ [inhabitat.com]

  • by Rytr23 (704409) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @07:14AM (#38583438)
    I thought they were putting those spider genes into goats years ago to have them spin the super silk instead of milk. I guess that went nowhere.. I would have liked to seen some goat-spider beast running around...
    • by jamesh (87723)

      I thought they were putting those spider genes into goats years ago to have them spin the super silk instead of milk. I guess that went nowhere.. I would have liked to seen some goat-spider beast running around...

      I think they switched to pigs when the Simpsons movie came out. Sure, pigs produce nowhere near as much milk, and they've had to throw out years of research with goat DNA, but a spiderpig is just so much cooler.

    • by sirdude (578412)

      That's the first thing that came to my mind as well. The goats [nsf.gov] were engineered [physorg.com] to produce milk with high quantities of protein found in spider silk.

      P.S. It's a pity that the BBC has to stoop to sensationalising their headlines. "GM silk worms make Spider-Man web closer to reality"? Twits.

      • by sirdude (578412)
        ...and I forgot to mention that the Goat story also came from UW. Presumably it's the same group involved.
        • by tempest69 (572798)
          Nope, different research groups that were in the same wing. The spider goat guy (Randy Lewis) is more of a protein researcher. Don Jarvis (spider silkworm) studies sugar additions to proteins, insects have some interesting gylcosylation pathways. Getting genes to stay in silkworms is not as easy as one would expect at first glance.
  • by arcite (661011) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @07:57AM (#38583612)
    I have to upgrade my hovertank to silksteel armor, Yang won't know what hit him!!
  • ...go home and invent new brand of steel bristle feather dusters for when these critters escape.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @08:18AM (#38583726)
    I hope the Chinese get the credit for the original silkworm genes
  • Now I understand why that GM beats me at Chess all the time. He's genetically modified :-)

    --
    Sorry, dumb signatures are currently prohibited.
  • NPR had a fascinating story a couple of years ago about a spider silk tapestry that had been woven. NPR.org [http] Fabric as soft as silk but stronger than steel, the possibilities are fascinating even if I have to wait a while to have a "that guy" suit made out of the stuff.

  • ... feel pain @ being boiled alive for their silk to be of any use? Or is this new silk so sturdy that the worms can't gnaw thru them, and that after the silk is unravelled, they are then free to become cocoons and whatever insect they develop into.

    More to the point, can't better silk be synthetically produced on a large scale? Same question applies for other animal based textiles, such as wool, leather, fur, etc
    • by cmdr_tofu (826352)

      Yeah silk is not very animal-friendly and vegans do avoid it. Unfortunately, this may not be a concern to the non-animal-rights-minded majority.

      Even if I was an animal-eater, I still would not like the idea of genetically modifying insects. I know that in this area of CT the mulberry trees were destroyed by introduction of silkworms. Who knows what consequences introduction of a modified silkworm could have? Also I'm scared of killer bees. What are the potential risks of GMO silkworms gone wrong?

      • by dkf (304284)

        I know that in this area of CT the mulberry trees were destroyed by introduction of silkworms.

        You are aware that mulberry trees are the natural habitat of silkworms? They're specialists and don't live on anything else. Moreover, it sounds like before that there was relatively little predation upon those trees, allowing them to get much larger and more common than would normally happen. Because of that, what you had there was a classic case of what happens when a predator species is introduced into a prey-rich environment. It happens.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Yeah silk is not very animal-friendly and vegans do avoid it. Unfortunately, this may not be a concern to the non-animal-rights-minded majority.

        I am an unapologetic omnivore. I have killed animals, then eaten them. I don't like to see higher animals like mammals or birds suffer and would like the chickens I eat to be treated humanely before they're killed. But unlike Bhuddists, I have no problem with swatting a fly, nor do I have a problem with boiling insect larvae. I'd say fortunately the insect rights ko

    • by Zaldarr (2469168)
      I can't answer the question about weather the silk is resilient enough for this to happen, I think the point is moot. Whilst vertebrates I believe should be treated humanely in regards to pain, the jury is still out on invertebrates feeling traditional sensations of pain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_in_invertebrates [wikipedia.org] In any case, it is certainly possible to produce such a thing as synthetic animal-textiles, the economic fact is that at present, it is far cheaper and efficient to just farm the animals i
    • More to the point, can't better silk be synthetically produced on a large scale? Same question applies for other animal based textiles, such as wool, leather, fur, etc

      The answer to your question is "No".

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      "More to the point, can't better silk be synthetically produced on a large scale? Same question applies for other animal based textiles, such as wool, leather, fur, etc"
      No.
      and no.
      next question?
      Okay lets get a little real here.
      1. leather. leather has some qualities that are not found in any other material. It is required for motorcycle racers to wear because it offers the best protection. Nothing man made can replace it. Also most leather is a by product of animals being killed for meat. Exceptions are for s

      • I'd add a little note to your 1: Nothing we currently produce economically replaces 100% of the effectiveness of leather for motorcycle gear.

        There are most certainly replacements available that are good, though quite objectively not as good.

        There are also various things that can replace leather for that purpose that are simply far to expensive (on the order of 100x the cost of a leather suit).

        Your point is valid but I wasn't happy with your wording of it; I fully support the continued pursuit of entirely ar

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          I frankly do not think anything is as good. The combination of abrasion resistance and flexibility of leather I feel is unmatched at this time. Maybe someday but not today.
          For many riders ballistic nylon and kevlar are a good substitute. For road riding possibly better than leather at least in hot weather. But for racing leather is still the best choice.
          I don't know of anything even at 100x the cost that beats leather in that application.
          I also don't have a problem with using leather since it would otherw

          • Alligators are eaten on a large scale in the United States. Not much of an alligator goes to waste. Alligator can be bought at the local grocery store. Nothing wrong with alligator leather if you're worrying about it not being a side product.

            Snakes can be eaten, I've never seen snake on the menu in the United States (I'm sure someone, somewhere has), but I do know some people that kill and eat rattlesnakes locally. I've never had it, but it's like the old saying, Tastes like Chicken. Personally I leav

    • by tempest69 (572798)
      Oddly spinning silk is tough to do from proteins. Even if you extract the goo from inside the spider and try to spin it- it's a mediocre fiber. Synthetic leather is a ways off. There isn't a compelling reason to make synthetic wool, as current wool is made without all of the industrial waste of nylon, and comes in significant quantities, and it's a fine renewable.

      We spray a whole lot of insecticide, killing a whole lot more bugs just for cotton, and those insects feel pain. If we decide that were goi
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Pound-for-pound, the amoeba is the most vicious animal on Earth.

  • Management (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @09:13AM (#38583996)

    it is unfeasible to 'farm' spiders for the commercial production of their silk because the arachnids don't produce enough of it

    These spiders obviously need a harsh lesson about the economic climate we live in. They're never going to produce enough if you just get some other creatures to make it instead. Rank all the spiders by silk production, fire the ones at the bottom of the list. Things'll soon turn around.

    coupled with their proclivity for eating each other

    That's actually a good sign. A little healthy competitive pressure.

    • by tempest69 (572798)
      They can also eat spider silk like cotton candy, so even if they overproduce, they'll just chew up the profits.
  • I hate it when it's not clear from the figure or table which of the data refer to the baseline. For those who are interested, dragline is the base.

    I do not get it. According to Table 1, modified fiber is 3 times thicker and have worse values???

    For example, break stress of dragline is 658 MJ/m3, while the rest is at least 2 times less.

    Maximum strain is better for modified, but what's the point of it? Who needs their silk stretched?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I see an upcoming SyFy 'original' movie on the way.

  • Now I have worm senses.
  • They should try giving the silkworms the spiders' proclivity for eating each other.
  • by Vyse of Arcadia (1220278) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 @11:19AM (#38585032)
    I am extremely ok with spider farming being infeasible. Accidentally wandering into a spider farm is the stuff of nightmares.
  • SpiderMoth, Followed by Attack of the MothSpiders, and Gargantua Spider Moth vs Monstrous Moth Spider
  • 1) Create super genetically enhanced silkworms. Patent it!
    2) Allow Super Silkworms (TM) to out compete and kill off all other silkworms.
    3) Sue into oblivion anyone using your patent.
    4) Profit!

    Bioengineering/Patenting is like the (only) perfect business model, whereby your actual product will actively kill off your competition for you, so you profit twice, once on the actual product, and twice legally when you are the only game in town!

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

Working...