Move Over, Wilbur. Guess Who’s Spinning Spider Silk?

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In the well-loved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, people are amazed by a web-spinning pig (well-worded webs, at that). It’s all a hoax though, as the pig (Wilbur) is in cahoots with a spider (Charlotte), but here in the real world, a web-spinning pig might not be impossible. Silkworms have already been genetically modified to spin spider silk, but that is so 2010. In 2011, Utah State University researcher Randy Lewis made headlines with spider silk–producing goats. Yes, goats.

Lewis’s goats carry two key spider genes for weaving silk. Sadly, the goats do not spin webs but they do produce spider silk in their milk, which can then be used for all sorts of purposes like, say, a skin-like bulletproof vest that is 10 times stronger than steel.

Spider silk itself is pretty amazing. Dragline silk (used for the outer web) is stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar. If you are wondering why researchers are trying to make silkworms, goats, and even bacteria produce spider silk, it is to make the production easier and faster without the usual procedures of forcing spiders to silk or killing the spider. The resulting silk is a potential candidate to create bulletproof vests, sutures, parachutes, and more – which, we think , is just as amazing as a pig spinning a web.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.