London : Scientists have genetically engineered silkworms to make artificial spider silk, a breakthrough that could lead to the development of stronger fibres for textiles, bandages for burn victims and bullet-proof vests.
The GM silkworms spin tough fibres containing spider silk proteins that are more elastic and extensible, making it more suitable for use in a range of medical applications, the Daily Mail reported.
Territorialism and cannibalism among spiders pose challenges to spider farming as a viable means of manufacturing silk.
Considering this, Dr Donald Jarvis, of the University of Wyoming in the United States, and colleagues created transgenic silkworms expressing spider gene sequences.
Spider silk proteins have been long produced in transgenic bacterial, yeast, plant, insect and mammalian cells.
However, previous attempts to incorporate them into fibres spun by silkworms led to relatively low yields.
But the new technique led to fibres at least as tough as spider silk and stronger than those spun by silkworms.
So silkworms may be used at factories for manufacturing tough silk fibres containing spider silk proteins, said the researchers.
“These results demonstrate that silkworms can be engineered to manufacture composite silk fibres containing stably integrated spider silk protein sequences, which significantly improve the overall mechanical properties of the parental silkworm silk fibres,” said Dr Jarvis.
The discovery was reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.