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Spider Silk and Goats' Milk

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spider.gif

Spider from http://www.clipart.co.uk/index.shtml

nexia.jpg

Who? Nexia Biotechnologies Inc.

What? Manufacturing a product called BioSteel from spider silk in large quantities using goats milk. Nigerian dwarf goats chromosomes have been modified to include a gene from the golden silk spider.

Where? Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec

When? Jeffery Turner, Nexia president, first got the idea while he was teaching at McGill University in 1992.

Why? Spider silk is a very strong, with the tensile strength of 136 000 kg per square inch, flexible, lightweight substance that if it could be mass produced could be used for many things as an a alternative to compounds based on steel or petrochemicals. "An inch-thick rope of this material would be able to stop a jet fighter landing on an aircraft carrier." (Dr. Randy Lewis, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/
0%2C3604%2C222785%2C00.html) Some of its uses include, ultra-light bullet resistant vests, medical sutures, fishing line that is stronger but better for the environment because it will eventually decompose, artificial ligaments, repairing broken limbs and torn tissue, coatings of space stations, aircraft, racing vehicles, and possibly bridges and other structures. The problem is the mass production of the silk, farming spiders is not a possibility because they are aggressive and territorial, if someone was to put a bunch together they would eat each other, finally ending up with one spider. Attempts to create spider silk by inserting the gene into bacteria did not work because the end product was something they could not work with, and it was not much like the natural product. This is where the goats come in, since there are not many differences between the silk glands of spiders and the milk glands of goats, it should be very easy to produce the silk in goats milk.

How? Nexia spliced together the silk-making genes of a spider and the genome of goats. The genes were altered to only turn on in the mammary glands of female goats that are lactating. Using cloning techniques they have bread goats that have the spider genes, the first are Webster and Peter, they will then be mated with other goats and will hopefully produce female goats that have the silk gene and can produce the silk in their milk. When the milk is produced the silk proteins will be isolated out of the milk, and purified, this produces a whitish liquid that can then be spun into fibers and used for the many applications.

websterandpete.jpg

Webster and Peter from http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_889000/889951.stm

To Learn More About the Structure of Spider Silk Click Here