My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: USTAR's Spider Silk From Transgenic Silkworms and Japanese Spiber from Transgenic Escherichia Coli Bacteria

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

USTAR's Spider Silk From Transgenic Silkworms and Japanese Spiber from Transgenic Escherichia Coli Bacteria

“This fabric can be used in various industries, such as automobiles and medicine. It is a major first step toward a manufacturing process that does not depend on petroleum”

Excerpt from an interview with Spiber President Kazuhide Sekiyama by The Asahi Shimbun newspaper on May 25th 2013

Despite what you’ve heard Spider Silk, which has a tensile strength of 1GPa (Giga Pascal) is not stronger than Steel, which on average has a tensile strength of 0.5 to 2GPa, depending on the composition of the alloys used to make the Steel. Rather it’s has the same tensile strengths but with lower density as noted in the article “Spider Silk is a wonder of nature, but it's not stronger than steel”, published Jun 07, 2013 by Michelle Oyen,

So please dispel that myth; it just ain’t so!

But Spider Silk, a protein like Hair is truly special. This is thanks in part to Nature’s efficiency in making materials at the nanoscopic level from Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon instead of using vast amounts of energy as we humans do to forge such materials as steel to which Spider Silk is often compared. So the quest to make Spider Silk commercially continues as noted in “Tangled webs: Why scientists want to recreate Spider Silk”, published 20 March 2013 Last updated at 11:21 By Christopher Brooks, BBC Scotland

Many have tried and failed at producing Spider Silk from Spiders, who are mainly territorial creatures who fight against each other and cannot be made to produce Silk on demand like domesticated sheep produce wool. Spiders spin their silk from a protein called fibroin. The protein emerges from their abdomen via a spinning wart and dries on contact with air to form a fibre that crystalline yet flexible, waterproof. Spider Silk has found few applications already such as crosshairs in Gun sights as well as use in Dressings splints for cuts and fishing lines. 

It main properties, that being lower density and high strength makes it attractive for making things such as high performance clothing to bullet proof vests lighter and stronger than Kevlar as noted in Popular Mechanic’s 6 Spider-Silk Superpowers Slideshow! 

But recently a few brave researchers have been quietly succeeding thanks to the use of a new tool: Genetic Engineering. Their ideas are cleverly simple; instead of using man-made macroscopic methods of making this elusive material, they genetically modify other organisms to produce the Spider Silk on demand and in commercially viable quantities.

The first such successful attempts were done by USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative) Professor Randy Lewis of  Utah State University back in August 2012 as stated in the article “USTAR Researcher Randy Lewis Developing Ancient Biomaterial for the Future”, published Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, Utah State University News. Professor Randy Lewis was using the following to create artificial Spider Silk:

1.      Transgenic Goats
2.      Transgenic Escherichia Coli Bacteria
3.      Transgenic Alfalfa
4.      Transgenic Silk Worms

The Transgenic Goats produced Spider Silk Proteins but assembling them into Spider Silk with the same tensile strength proved difficult.

However, more recently in February 2013, USTAR Research Professor Randy Lewis, who has been working on developing methods of manufacturing Spider Silk for the past three decades and holds a eight (8) patents relating to Transgenic methods used to produce Spider Silk proteins and Araknitek Artificial Spider Silk for commercial usage as described in Spinning a Stronger Future: Arakniteck Creates Synthetic Spider Silk, viewed July 1st 2013, USTAR, has persevered.

He’s published a series of books describing his misadventures with the transgenic critters, which kiddies obviously love as much as Charlotte’s web as noted in “USU's Spider Silk Research Spawns a Web of Literary Offerings”, published Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, Utah State University News.

More recently in January 2013, USTAR Professor Randy Lewis in collaboration with Dr. Malcolm Fraser from the University of Notre Dame has succeeded with Transgenic Silkworms and has created a synthetic blend of Spider Silk and Silkworm Silk as reported in “Genetically Engineered Silkworms Spin Like Spiders”, published February 11, 2013 03:00 AM ET, Discovery News.

While not as strong as Spider Silk, it bests SilkWorm Silk and is thus commercially viable as it uses the same machinery of Silkworms to make Spider-SilkWorm Silk! It still holds the potential to become genuine Spider Silk by the introduction of even stronger Spider Silk Genes from the Darwin's Bark Spider (Caerostris darwini).

More recently, however, some Spider silk Researchers at a Japanese startup Spiber have succeeded in using Transgenic Bacteria to make spider silk which they call Qmonos (from kumonosu or “spider web” in Japanese) as stated in the article “Dress to kill in this synthetic spider silk outfit”, published May 26, 2013 12:55 PM PDT by Tim Hornyak, CNET News and “Ready to web: The ultra strong dress made from synthetic SPIDER SILK” published 27 May 2013 UPDATED: 16:28 GMT, 27 May 2013 By Rachel Reilly, Mail Online.

Dr. My Hedhammar of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Director of R&D at Spiber Technologies in Uppsala are behind the success on this frontier of Spider Silk Research using Transgenic  Escherichia Coli Bacteria. In patent No. 8,278,416 as described in the article “Patent Watch: Man-Made Spider Silk”, published June 1, 2013 By Marissa Fessenden, Scientific American they detail:

1.      Two (2) modified spider silk proteins
2.      Describe how they can be coaxed to self-assemble

Clearly the picture Electric Blue Cocktail Dress below it proves that the technology of Spiber not only works. A victory for all fashionistas but also for business interest looking to commercialize Spider Silk Production! 

This is now the case with Spider, which has contracted Kojima Industries to build a plant to crank out 220 pounds of the synthetic silk a month and 10 tons of spider silk a year by 2015 as reported in  the Japanese Newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun  in the article “Company develops technology to mass-produce 'spider silk' fabric”, published May 25, 2013 By TARO MIZOGUCHI/ Staff Writer, The Asahi Shimbun.

Two Scientific ventures, one American and One Japanese have succeeded where other have failed. USTAR Research Professor Randy Lewis has succeeded in making synthetic Spider-Silkworm Silk from Transgenic Silkworms, which already may be commercially viable and now Spiber has succeeded in developing Qmonos Spider silk from Transgenic Escherichia Coli Bacteria.

Spider Silk is the next big trend in Fabrics which means I’m Out Ciara and Nikki Minaj Style!

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