Scientists have known about the remarkable tensile strength of spider silk for a long time, but getting the little creatures to cooperate and spin the stuff for human use is no easy task.
For instance, researchers once tried to set up a spider farm from which they could harvest silk, but rather than spin together, the spiders turned territorial and attacked one another.
Thank goodness for a true farm animal: the goat. Led by Randy Lewis, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming, a team of scientists figured out how to transfer spiders' dragline silk genes into the DNA of female goats. The result: When the goats get pregnant and start lactating, their milk contains plenty of the silk protein, which can be harvested and purified in great quantities, according to Lewis.
While the genetic advance is promising -- and does not appear to have caused any health issues for the goats -- the process is hit-and-miss, as is common when trying to develop a transgenic organism. Only about half of the goats end up with the spider gene. But the scientists are looking at other opportunities. For example, because alfalfa has a relatively high protein content, it could be an ideal crop to incorporate the spider gene, and might end up producing much larger amounts of silk.
How great are goats:
- Goats are great climbers and have even been found at the tops of trees and dams.
- Goats are intelligent, social creatures and can become depressed if kept alone, which is why keeping only one as a pet is not a good idea.
- Americans might love cow milk, but around the world, goat milk -- and goat meat -- is more popular than any other animal's milk and meat.