Silkworms spin cocoons in a silk farm at the Qianjin Township in Zhejiang Province, China.
Credit: China Photos

A group of biologists has created a new type of genetically-modified silkworm capable of spinning extra strong silk – Spider-Man style.

According to NewsBullet.inDr Don Jarvis of Wyoming University and his team used spider genes to toughen up ordinary silkworms. Worm embryos were injected with the sequences of spiders' genes that give their silk its elasticity and strength, allowing them to spin hybrid silk that is 95 percent silkworm protein and 5 percent spider protein.

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In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, the team said the resulting silk fibers were "on average, tougher than the parental silkworm silk fibers and as tough as native dragline spider silk fibers," which is the toughest type of silk spiders make.

That makes the silk threads stronger than steel, researcher Randolph Lewis told Innovation News Daily

According to the BBC, scientists have been trying for decades to reproduce spider-strength silk. It is tough, lightweight, biodegradable and – unlike plastics – can be produced without oil or high-energy processes.

Unfortunately, however, spiders are not very cooperative spinners. They do not produce enough silk to make spider farms commercially viable – plus they have a nasty tendency to eat each other.

The spider-silkworms could prove to be mini-factories for manufacturing super-strength silk. Dr Jarvis and his team are working on increasing the percentage of spider proteins in the modified worms' silk, until the silkworms spin a substance that is mostly or even entirely made of spider material.

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