Spider silk, goats, and the Space Elevator Games

As ScienCentralNews reports, spider silk is strong stuff, “5 times tougher than Kevlar.”  But as they also report in this very interesting article, it’s hard to obtain, in quantity, from spiders.  The story describes a technique of harvesting spider silk from Goat milk.  The idea was to insert gene fragments into goats and then harvest the silk spider from the goat’s milk.

One of the entrants in the 2006 Space Elevator Games Tether Pull competition was a Canadian company called Nexia Biotechnologies.  They licensed this technology and attempted to create a super-strong tether to enter into the Games.  They never showed up to compete, however, and I always wondered why.  This article gives us the probable reason; the spider silk created from this technique was inferior to the real stuff.

A newer technique, using the entire gene sequence of spider silk (instead of just a fraction of it, as was done before) may be in the offing, and this time, instead of splicing this information into goats, it may be spliced into crops.  Cheryl Hayashi, one of the team members who has helped decode the entire spider silk gene sequence states; “That way they could be grown very cheaply, you know, by the acre. And then the silk protein would be extracted from the plant material and this would be the way that we could get very large amounts of spider silks. We could get spider silks by the ton.”

There is also a video about spider silk and spider silk “farming” you can view.  One learns that Black Widow spiders happen to be the best for this use.  Nadia Ayoub, the researcher interviewed, said that farming Black Widows to extract Spider silk was like “farming wolves for meat” – a very interesting comparison.

It’s a shame that spider silk is not strong enough for an earth-based space elevator, but it should work just fine for a lunar-based one.  Here’s hoping this technique becomes practical.

2 thoughts on “Spider silk, goats, and the Space Elevator Games

  1. Mr michael Adedotun Oke

    Dear Sir,

    We are interested to attend any upcoming event for 2008.Kindly notify us any upcomin event and the details registration.

    Thanks and all the Best.

    Mr Michael Adedotun OKE,

    Agric Link Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited,P.O bOX 11611,Garki nIGERIA

  2. Pingback: Repelling Our Way to Space | T.B.H. Ames

Comments are closed.