Scientists Alter Silkworm Genes To Produce Spider Silk

Posted: Aug 12 2018, 2:10pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 12 2018, 2:15pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Alter Silkworm Genes to Produce Spider Silk
Credit: Max Planck Institute

Using a gene editing technique, researchers induced silkworms to produce spider silk

Spider silk is famous for its exceptional toughness and flexibility. It is a unique natural fiber that is suitable for widespread use in industrial and medical applications. But large-scale production of this silk is not possible due to the erratic behavior of spiders. Recently, a team of researchers from different Chinese institutions have found an efficient way to commercially produce spider silk.

By applying a gene editing technique, researchers have altered silkworm genes and induced them to produce spider silk. Rather than using the more familiar CRISPR gene editing technique, they opted to use an editing technique called TALEN. The technique can cut specific sequences of DNA. Using TALEN, researchers replaced one part of a silkworm genome with a snippet from a golden orb-web spider and produced a spider-silk making silkworm.

“The silkworm, Bombyx mori, has been the most well known silk producer for thousands of years and has been considered an ideal bioreactor for producing exogenous proteins, including spider silk. Previous attempts using transposon-mediated transgenic silkworms to produce spider silk could not achieve efficient yields…Our study provides a native promoter-driven, highly efficient system for expressing the heterologous spider silk gene instead of the transposon-based, random insertion of the spider gene into the silkworm genome.” Authors wrote in the study.

The final product was a mixture of the silk produced by the silkworm and the spider. Testing showed that the silk was 35.2 percent spider. This is a significant improvement compared to previous efforts which were only able to achieve approximately 5 percent spider silk.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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