A genetically modified silkworm has the ability to produce super-strength silk that may eventually allow scientists to create materials stronger than steel using silk.
Scientists announced Wednesday that they have created silkworms that are genetically modified to spin much stronger silk than that produced by spiders.
The research team reported on their results from two genetically engineered silkworms in this week’s issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“These composite fibers were, on average, tougher than the parental silkworm silk fibers and as tough as native dragline spider silk fibers. These results demonstrate that silkworms can be engineered to manufacture composite silk fibers containing stably integrated spider silk protein sequences, which significantly improve the overall mechanical properties of the parental silkworm silk fibers,” the scientists wrote in the piece.
The research is likely to increase the potential for large scale production of silk. Scientists currently do not have the means of producing large amounts of silk, which is mainly produced by spiders. The team notes that spiders, when enclosed in small spaces, tend to eat one another.
Scientists have attempted to modify silkworms with genes from spiders in recent years, hoping for additional output of silk. Until now, the feat has largely failed to produce any significant findings. The team notes that they have, thus far, created silk fiber that is about 48 percent stronger than regular silk and has about 61 percent the overall strength of spider silk, the strongest silk produced by spiders.
While the team notes that this is not the final step in creating a super-strong silk, they do note that it represents a step in the right direction.
“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,” said Dr. Christopher Holland from the University of Oxford.
The team notes that large scale production of silk could be used in many medical applications including artificial ligaments and tendons, as well as tough wound dressings. The material may also be strong enough that it coud be used as a new material in manufacturing bulletproof vests and other lightweight materials.