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Spidergoats to the rescue! How to make silk from milk with genetic engineering

Silk from orb-weaving spiders is versatile and valuable. But, unfortunately for us, spiders are territorial and cannibalistic, so farming them is out. However, the US molecular biologist Randy Lewis has spun a clever solution: genetically engineering goats to deliver the silky goods. First developing the idea at the University of Wyoming before moving his herd to Utah State University, Lewis manipulated goat eggs to include a spider silk-production gene. His resulting ‘spidergoats’ look entirely normal, but produce milk that contains spider-silk protein, which can be extracted for use in countless applications, from repairing human ligaments and tendons to producing parachutes and airbags. While this short documentary from 2010 uses humour to detail the ingenious transgenic process, it also prompts questions such as: are spidergoats a mutation too far? Or is this simply the next logical step in humanity’s millennia-long history of genetic manipulation?

Directors: Sam Gaty, George Costakis

5 October 2018

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