Genetically modified silkworms produced pure spider silk
Researchers from China have successfully used CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing to modify silkworms to produce spider silk, a material known for its strength and toughness. This breakthrough spider silk, while not as strong or stretchy as natural spider silk, is significantly tougher than Kevlar and could have applications in medical sutures and bulletproof vests. However, challenges remain in mass production, including ensuring the genetic modifications are stable over generations and maintaining the health of the silkworms, which are vulnerable to infection and produce varying quality silk. The second article confirms that the silk of spiders is composed of thousands of nanostrands, each only 20 millionths of a millimeter in diameter, which could lead to advances in creating new materials for medical (such as sutures) and engineering applications.
This article is a remarkable example of how genetic engineering can create materials with enhanced properties for practical applications. The fact that this modified silk is tougher than Kevlar yet potentially suitable for medical use like sutures demonstrates the versatility and potential of biologically engineered materials. However, the challenges in mass production and ensuring consistent quality due to silkworm vulnerability highlight the complexities involved in mass producing spider silk. Modifying the genetic structure of silkworms may result in unexpected health problems or distress since their bodies are not inherently adapted to create such material. In addition, it’s important to remember that silkworms are living organisms and while technologicalmass-producing advancements are important, we should remember the consequences of turning these organisms into such biofactories.