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Transgenic silkworm spins strong ‘spider’ threads that could be mass-produced

JIJI

Japan’s National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences has developed a transgenic silkworm that produces strong “spider” silk.

Researchers at the government-backed institute, based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, generated the silkworm by injecting into its eggs the genes that produce the dragline silk of the spider Araneus ventricosus.

The produced silk is 50 percent stronger than normal silk, according to an article posted Wednesday on the online version of the U.S. journal PLOS ONE.

The silk can be mass-produced and may be used as material for surgical sutures and protective suits.

Researcher Yoshihiko Kuwana said no one else has succeeded in developing a commonly used silkworm capable of spinning spider silk.

The hybrid silk does not require any new investment by silk producers because it can be processed into textiles without any changes to existing manufacturing equipment.

The spider silk protein content in the hybrid silk ranges from 0.4 to 0.6 percent. If the amount is increased, the silk will be even stronger.

The institute is making preparations for a trial to culture transgenic silkworms at silkworm farms. It is considering collaborations with companies.