SCIENCE
01/04/2012 06:16 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2012

Hybrid Silkworm Can Spin Spider Silk (VIDEO)

Hybrid silkworms that can produce a composite of worm and spider silk in large amounts have been created by scientists from the University of Wyoming.

Study co-author Don Jarvis, a molecular biologist at the University of Wyoming told National Geographic, "Our hope was that by embedding spider-silk protein [gene] sequences within silkworm silk [gene] sequences, we could get those proteins to co-assemble ... into composite fibers, and that is what happened."

It takes approximately 3,000 silkworm cocoons to make one pound of silk, and the hybrid worms spin silk with only two to four percent protein fiber from spiders, so don't get your hopes up for a wrist-mounted genetically modified silkworm any time soon.

Two to four percent may not seem significant, but researchers have been trying for years to produce a super-strong silk in large quantities by mix-matching spider genes with silkworms.

Keep in mind you can't farm spiders for their webs. They tend to eat each other, and don't take kindly to being silk-milked.

The potential applications of super-strong silk are many and far reaching. Randy Lewis, another of the study's co-authors told National Geographic, "We're not looking at bulletproof vests," Lewis said. "We're looking at artificial limbs, tendons, parachutes, and landing lines on aircraft carriers—[situations] where we need elasticity and strength."

Our paranoid tinfoil hat wearing friends over at Motherboard seem to think these "silk pooping" (the silkworms don't poop the thread, it comes out of their mouths) little hybrids are set to march upon humanity infecting unsuspecting humans with their silky hybrid genes of doom.

Highly unlikely. There's only a small chance of that happening.

Not quite as entertaining, but playing into the Motherboard theory of doom, the hybrid "spider silkworms" actually glow when the genetics successfully take as the scientists engineered them that way.

Glowing super spider silkworms? Sure, why not.

-

Subscribe to the Weird News email.
Truth is stranger than fiction. Step into the world of weird news.

CONVERSATIONS