Scientists breed goats that produce spider silk

May 31, 2010 by Lisa Zyga report
Goats that produce spider silk protein in their milk could enable researchers to collect large quantities of the silk. Image credit: National Science Foundation.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers from the University of Wyoming have developed a way to incorporate spiders' silk-spinning genes into goats, allowing the researchers to harvest the silk protein from the goats’ milk for a variety of applications. For instance, due to its strength and elasticity, spider silk fiber could have several medical uses, such as for making artificial ligaments and tendons, for eye sutures, and for jaw repair. The silk could also have applications in bulletproof vests and improved car airbags.

Normally, getting enough for these applications requires large numbers of spiders. However, spiders tend to be territorial, so when the researchers tried to set up spider farms, the spiders killed each other.

To solve this problem, Randy Lewis, a professor of at the University of Wyoming, and other researchers decided to put the spiders’ dragline silk gene into goats in such a way that the goats would only make the in their milk. Like any other genetic factor, only a certain percentage of the goats end up with the gene. For instance, of seven goat kids born in February 2010, three have tested positive for having the silk protein gene. When these transgenic goats have kids and start lactating, the researchers will collect the milk and purify the spider silk protein into “much, much higher quantities,” Lewis said.

Other than their ability to produce the silk protein, the goats do not seem to have any other differences in health, appearance, or behavior compared to goats without the gene, the researchers said.

In the future, the scientists plan to incorporate the silk into alfalfa plants, which they say could produce even larger quantities of silk. They explain that not only is alfalfa widely distributed, it also has a high (20-25%) protein content, making it an ideal crop to produce silk protein.

Explore further: Scientists sequence complete genome of E. coli strain responsible for food poisoning

More information: via: National Science Foundation

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User comments : 37

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Illure
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2010
I heard about this before. I wonder how it is different from the previous work.

In 2000, Nexia, a Canadian biotechnology company, was successful in producing spider silk protein in transgenic goats.

http://en.wikiped...der_silk
Anthony_Casey
5 / 5 (4) May 31, 2010
It's the same company, the same work. Checking the NSF link, the new developments include the 2nd generation, naturally bred, kids (3/7 of which got the trans-genes), advances in the spinning of the silk (the proteins are a gloopy mess in the milk, and spinning them into silk is a very difficult process), and the idea of adding the genes to alfalfa.
KBK
3 / 5 (11) May 31, 2010
Don't forget to sell the work off to Monsanto so they can destroy alfalfa fields and then sue the farmers for doing so. Besides wrecking the environment.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.6 / 5 (15) May 31, 2010
In the future, the scientists plan to incorporate the silk genes into alfalfa plants, which they say could produce even larger quantities of silk. They explain that not only is alfalfa widely distributed, it also has a high (20-25%) protein content, making it an ideal crop to produce silk protein.


Do you realize how completely INSANE it is to grow a plant with transgenic arthropod DNA?

If the Pollen gets out it could completely destroy the environment by contaminating the regular stock. Not to mention the possibility of exotic bacteria or viruses capable of bridging between completely different Kingdoms of life...

This is a NIGHTMARE, and is exactly what should not be allowed...
powerup1
3.7 / 5 (9) May 31, 2010
@quantum conundrum, you where really born in the wrong time, you should have been 500 years ago the world would have been more to your liking then.

I really don't understand why people with your world view even bother to come to a site such as this, you're only going to give yourself a heart-attack.
powerup1
4.2 / 5 (5) May 31, 2010
If it were left up to some of the people post in these forums, we would still be living in the dark ages and there would never be any progress in this world.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.2 / 5 (10) May 31, 2010
powerup1:

This is a SERIOUS matter, you moron.

Hybrid flus and things like that exist, and if they keep screwing around with genetics like this you are gonna get something SICK eventually...

Do you know how fast PLANTS can reproduce in the wild? That's why we call them "weeds" when they are a pest plant, and there is an entire industry based on trying to contain and control them...
Quantum_Conundrum
1.7 / 5 (6) May 31, 2010
If it were left up to some of the people post in these forums, we would still be living in the dark ages and there would never be any progress in this world.


Well, that certainly isn't me, because I want to put a man on Gliese pronto...
Cyberguy
5 / 5 (6) May 31, 2010
"Spidergoat,
Spidergoat,
Does whatever a Spidergoat does."

What commenters so far have failed to appreciate are the new crime-fighting possibilities of this development.
danajohnson0
not rated yet May 31, 2010
Hmm, 'Arachnid Park',
Bats will hang in webs, and hunt humans.
Goats will learn to trap and eat chickens.
Scrapie virus will travel the jet streams in huge invisible webs, descending on towns 'in masse', and we'll all forget our passwords, and develop Narcolepsy or terminal insomnia.
All from a little 'splice',

How do these baby goats digest spider proteins in the milk? What happens when the activating chemistry gets into the feeding baby goats?
krundoloss
4.3 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2010
Hey Hey, everyone, lets calm down a bit. Genetic engineering is powerful and dangerous, but the possibilities are god-like and awesome. We should not be afraid to work in this field, albeit VERY carefully. Just think, what if we engineered dust-mites that healed people, or better yet, eliminate disease altogether with gene therapy. It is a game-changing technology, and I feel if we were to master it, we could end up with things like intergalactic artificial life form spaceships (LEXX, anyone?). I mean, nature uses living creatures to function, at some point we can do the same. Think about it, why make nanobots if we can just create new forms of life using artificial self-assembling DNA. This could be the future, too crazy and awesome to be understood right now. The scary part is, life seems to have a mind of its own, able to mutate on the fly, driven towards self-preservation. We must be careful, but, we can do this. We CAN wield nature, but we must be VERY careful! VERY!
krundoloss
5 / 5 (4) Jun 01, 2010
A good analogy would be learning to control fire. Yes, you can burn yourself. And yes, you can burn down a forest. But you can also heat your home, power your car, even travel to the moon. If we are careful, the possibilities are endless.
Jadxia
1.5 / 5 (4) Jun 01, 2010
Sadly, once big business gets ahold of it, they are so often NOT careful.

Witness BP....
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2010
Great job actually, I will be very happy to know how they put the gene in the right plase, in order to end up in the milk and not into their fur or meat....
If they can do this with bt corn- to produse bt toxin only in the stem and leaves, and not in the polen and the grains then all the haters of this tehnology will have less to feed themselves.
And this is actually a very weird thinking, to produse it by the milk, why not to make the silkworm to produse it?
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2010
And only to do the conection with another article aboth the lactose, if they can do that they can do no problem a milk without lactose...
And another great posibility to make a plant food with proteins whhich are good digestible and contains all the aminoasids the human needs, and all the other thing the meat gives you and the plants are just poor to contain them, then I will cut meat eating without problems, or just I will reduse the amount.But I just can imagine how sceptic the gm haters will be, I think I will never live enough to see this.....
Coldstatic
4 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2010
@krundoloss lexx is awesome
limnos
3 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2010
This is not a new video game. It is not the same as inventing fire. The downside is far worse. With fire you can't burn down the world. This is the power of God. It has positive possibilities that are unimaginable. It also has negative ones. Those who see the positive in it should consider that it will make nuclear weapons obsolete in 10 years, and that it costs almost nothing to do, and anyone with a master's degree in biology can do it. There has been no "careful" with its use so far, and there will be none in the future. The negatives will come more surely than the positives, at a ratio of thousands to one. The ignorance in these comments of how Monsanto's genetically modified corn spread to our food supply is astonishing. Eight plants feed the world. One mistake and billions die. Even if you do the diligence to figure out how to plug the leak before you drill, which we are apparently incapable of, and you will still make the mistake. There are too many variables.
Djincs
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2010
@limnos
You can go to scare the little children with your sh*ts!
LariAnn
2.8 / 5 (6) Jun 01, 2010
21st century terrorism: Large corporations (effectively, non-human alien entities) produce transgenic organisms for profit while humans at large suffer the consequences of a lack of intelligent foresight. Then the technology becomes so commonplace and easy to execute that some scientifically-trained hate-filled fanatics decide that placing the gene for botulism toxin (for example) into the rice, corn or wheat genome would work well to terrorize billions of people. But the gene escapes into the global food production chain via windblown pollen and what was supposed to be a localized terrorist attack becomes a global catastrophe, leading to the death of millions via starvation or poisoning. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, things will have to run their course, even if billions die in the process.
Djincs
2.2 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2010
@LariAnn
You have to cut off the movies man!
"lack of intelligent foresight" - people like you have it already....
Wendy_Babiak
4.6 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2010
Now that the genie is out of the bottle, things will have to run their course, even if billions die in the process.


Well, that'll certainly solve the population problem.

Those of you who want to play Pollyanna with this and pretend that serious problems are unlikely must carry ostrich genes.
LWM
5 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2010
Spidergoat, spidergoat, goes anywhere that a spider goes.
JCincy
5 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2010
Marketing 101: Create a need and then fill it.

Alfalfa plants with the Roundup gene and the silk gene. Next splice in the root system of a fast spreading bamboo plant. Throw in some thorns and the urushiol oil produced by the poison ivy plant
and you'd a have real serious weed on your hands.

Of course, the creator of this toxic nuisance will then provide us with the 'environmentally' friendly chemicals to kill it off... maybe.
Quantum_Conundrum
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2010
JCincy:

Eerily similar to the Sci-fi channel super heroine movie "Ultra Violet".

Although this does give us a way to win the war on drugs.

Take some poppies, Marijauna, and Coca plants and splice in some DNA from Australian Irochongi Jellyfish Venom. Then grow loads and loads of the pollen and spread to Afghanistan, Mexico, and Central America respectively..

Now anyone who tries to grow that poison will get what they deserve: poison...
hazy_jane
4 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2010
..DNA from Australian Irochongi Jellyfish Venom...


You mean Irukandji...^^ (sorry couldn't help it the spelling made me shudder)
trekgeek1
4 / 5 (1) Jun 02, 2010
Damn, I was actually searching for a spidergoat comment and somebody beat me to it. Oh well, "Can he swing from a web, no he can't he's a goat...........".
tselliott
not rated yet Jun 02, 2010
This is disturbing to me. I understand that we need to use science to solve our modern problems, but isn't that why we have lady bugs for no reason. Science sometimes goes very wrong and we don't know this until it is too late. I am stuck wondering why someone would come up with idea of making goats milk into a spider web silk substitute. That is beyond creepy. I get it that the silk is important, but adding a gene to a goat to mutate its milk is way too sci-fi. This reminds me of the movie "Splice" coming out. It looks disgusting.
powerup1
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
This is a SERIOUS matter, you moron.

Hybrid flus and things like that exist, and if they keep screwing around with genetics like this you are gonna get something SICK eventually...


@Quantum, before you call someone a "moron" you really should read your posts before you send them. You have been watching too many bad sci-fi movies.

Genetic engineering is a powerful tool that will allow humanity to control it's future, yet people like yourself can only imagine the mad scientist playing god. I'm sure you believe that life came to be by fairy dust or some such nonsense.
Dr_Clo
not rated yet Jun 04, 2010
First off, every post has something either scientifically or science fictionally wrong with it. The silk produced in the goats milk is just that, IN the goats milk (not replacing it!). It is not being spun out of the goats teets, it is in the milk, which after collection (just like for cows) needs to be purified. In this case the silk must be extracted from the milk. As for any baby goat that drinks this milk, it is the same as if it ingested a spider web off of some grass it was eating, no harm, minimal nutritional value. I've seen a human ingest a spider web without harm, surely a goats stomach is a bit more resilient (tin cans and all).

Currently, for laboratory experiments, silk is extracted from silk worm cocoons. This is a VERY tedious and low yield process, but silk is needed to advance fields such as tissue engineering. It's true genetic engineering is a powerful tool, but until groups of genes allow cross-breading, 99.9% of your fears are unsubstantiated.
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
I agree with Dr Clo and powerup1, I am sick of people talking how bad this thing is without to know the true facts about the tehnology, just sci-fi sh*ts, the less informed the person is-bigger is the fear, this scenario of gm organism escaping into the wilg is really over rated, the wild species are perfectly adapted to their environment, it is really hard to create something that will be more competitive than them(even if your purpose is to do so), name one domesticated or man made thing that made this....we have dogs which can kill a wolf but if we relese a pack of them in the wood will they survive?Or this plant produsing silk, if she crossbread(this is the worst scenario), is the wild grass have any benefit of this...she wont be capable to compete in the wild!
CHollman82
1 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
This is not a new video game. It is not the same as inventing fire. The downside is far worse. With fire you can't burn down the world. This is the power of God.


There [probably] is no god you neanderthal.
ackmess
not rated yet Jun 04, 2010
we have dogs which can kill a wolf but if we relese a pack of them in the wood will they survive?

Yes, they would if they were in a place with no native wolf packs. wild dogs roam places all over the world and do just fine.
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
Yes but near the sities, or vilages, they cant compete even with foxes or the chacals.....from all the breeds in the world you cant find even one!
with the crops it is the same story....
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
And if this happens(but i am shure it wont) well it wont be much worse than the invasions of not native species, and this invasions were happening often in the past and now not that often but still there are some examples...
gwargh
not rated yet Jun 07, 2010
If they can do this with bt corn- to produse bt toxin only in the stem and leaves, and not in the polen and the grains


Expression of transgenes is usually controlled by choosing specific promoters for other genes that are expressed in very few tissues.
The problem with expressing something only in the stem is that most of the genes in the stem are also active in most other parts of the plant as well. The stem is, to oversimplify, a more primitive part than the flowers or fruit. However, the genes it expresses, due to their "primitiveness" tend to be expressed throughout the plant.
So unless a promoter specific to stems and leaves is found, expression cannot be controlled.
gwargh
not rated yet Jun 07, 2010
This is disturbing to me. I understand that we need to use science to solve our modern problems, but isn't that why we have lady bugs for no reason. Science sometimes goes very wrong and we don't know this until it is too late. I am stuck wondering why someone would come up with idea of making goats milk into a spider web silk substitute. That is beyond creepy. I get it that the silk is important, but adding a gene to a goat to mutate its milk is way too sci-fi. This reminds me of the movie "Splice" coming out. It looks disgusting.

Your criticism, then, is not in the methods or dangers, but in your gut feeling?
Djincs
1 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2010
@gwargh
Yes I know that, but in the case of the goat how do they put it in the right place, was it intentionally or by chance after lots of trials, have they used a tehnology to put the DNA where they want....
In the corn I think it wont be that hard this to be done, the difference between the stem and leaves and the grains and polen(the polen is not that important actually in spite of what some critisist say it will destroy the nature) is significant. Lots of work have to be done if we wont to know how so called junk DNA(actually it is not a junk at all) operates, then the posibilities of this tehnology will be endless...