Researchers in China have successfully genetically modified silkworms to produce spider silk that is six times tougher than Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests.
The researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to insert the genes for spider silk proteins into the DNA of silkworms. They also had to modify the spider silk proteins so that they would interact properly with proteins in the silkworm glands, ensuring that the fiber would be spun properly.
The resulting silk fibers had exceptionally high mechanical performance. They were six times tougher than Kevlar and had a tensile strength that was greater than nylon.
Lead author Junpeng Mi says that the new spider silk fibers have a wide range of potential applications, including smart materials for the military and aerospace, and biomedical engineering. For example, the fibers could be used to make surgical sutures that are stronger and more durable than traditional sutures.
Mi and his team are now working on developing genetically modified silkworms that produce spider silk fibers from both natural and engineered amino acids. This could lead to the development of spider silk fibers with even better properties than the fibers produced in the current study.
The sources for this piece include an article in CosmosMagazine.