• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Animal Note: Artificial Spider Silk

Air Date: Week of January 18, 2002

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on how scientists are finally catching up with millions of years of spider evolution and manufacturing spider silk.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, an entire province in Canada goes green--with garbage, that is. Meet the composting Nova Scotians. First, this page from the Animal Notebook, with Maggie Villiger.

[THEME MUSIC]

VILLIGER: For years, spider silk has been the Holy Grail of material scientists. Spider silk is said to be at least five times stronger than steel, and it's lightweight and flexible, too. Setting up arachnid assembly lines to spin out silk for industrial uses, however, is far from feasible. But there is a way to manufacture vast quantities of this strong stuff. The first hurdle is making enough of the spider silk protein. Researchers are doing this by inserting the spider gene for making the silk protein into cow and hamster cells. These cells then secrete the building blocks of spider silk. And now, for the first time, scientists have devised a way to spin these raw silk materials into longer strands. They push the watery protein solution through a tiny opening analogous to the spinneret through which the spiders secrete their silk. Water is squeezed out of the mixture and the protein molecules join together, forming long liquid crystal filaments. The researchers have also inserted the spider genes into living goats and are waiting for them to mature. Eventually, they hope to harvest mass quantities of silk proteins from the goats' milk. The goal is to turn the silk into everything from very fine sutures for eye or nerve surgery to bullet- proof vests to biodegradable fishing line. That's this week's Animal Note. I'm Maggie Villiger.

[THEME MUSIC FADES]

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[CUTAWAY 1 MUSIC- Tangerine Dream, "Antique Dream"]

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.