Silkworms engineered to produce spider silk could lead to better body armorS

Spider silk is one of those wonderful materials whose incredibly tensile properties are the stuff of myth. That's why it's been the target of years of transgenic research. As far back as 2000, researchers were genetically engineering other animals to produce it — like the infamous spider-goat. However, many of their attempts have had problems, either because so little silk is produced, or it requires extensive post-production to render it usable. Sure, you can milk spiders directly, but the process is slow, difficult, and extremely costly.

Now researchers have successfully managed to introduce spider-silk genes into silkworms. Silkworm spiderweb has the massive advantage of coming in a handy, pre-assembled fiber. The researchers used the wonderfully named piggyBac vectors to create transgenic silkworms with chimeric silkworm/spider silk proteins. The resulting fibers were as tough as the native drag-line silk of spiders, and we already have in place an immense amount of industrial technology for the extraction of silkworm silk.

Sure, this technology will have huge potential for important medical uses like tiny, strong sutures. But I just can't wait for my spider silk (and potentially bulletproof) coat!