Silk in the
strand thinner than a human hair is stronger than steel. A strand
the thickness of a pencil could stop a jet in flight. Spun into
fabric, it can stop a speeding bullet. So what is it? Spider silk.
The sought after substance has frustrated researchers for years.
Attempts to "farm" spiders for their silk didn't work
out well. Spiders tend to kill each other in close quarters. Instead,
scientists tried to find a way to mass-produce a synthetic version
of the stuff.
to genetic engineering and goats, scientists may get as close to
the real thing as possible. Natural spider silk is a combination
of proteins that spiders produce, which is forced through a winding
path in their bodies, then out through spinnerets. The process "aligns"
the proteins into the super-strong strand. Scientists isolated the
genes that produce the silk proteins, and engineered them into goats'
genes. The spider genes can then direct the goat genes to produce
the silk proteins. The proteins are extracted from the goats' milk
and turned into a spider-silk substitute. The process hasn't been
perfected yet but researchers say they're closer than ever. Teams
working on the problem say the silk would be perfect for parachutes,
ropes, nets, artificial tendons and ligaments, aerospace tethers,
and bulletproof clothing. What products can you think of? Is it
ethical to alter the goats for this purpose?