Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, Inc., the Michigan-based company pioneering the use of genetic engineering to produce spider silk, recently announced that, during the months of May, June, and July, their scientific team succeeded in its goal to scale up the number of genetic insertions performed. The company has developed an efficient way to insert into silkworms the genetic material used by spiders to produce silk, with the goal of getting silkworms to produce commercially viable spider silk.
The team, led by Malcolm J. Fraser, Ph.D., had an initial goal of doubling the number of DNA construct insertions performed in May. As it turned out, the actual number of insertions performed greatly exceeded that goal, and the increase was sustained in June and July as well. Dr. Fraser heads the Fraser Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame where much of the research is being done.
Kraigâ€™s CEO, Kim Thompson, commented on the unexpected achievement. â€œOver the last ninety days, Dr. Fraserâ€™s team has performed tens of thousands of DNA construct insertions. This increase in laboratory productivity greatly exceeded managementâ€™s expectations for the period. This dramatic increase in productivity is an indication of the dedication and enthusiasm of the scientists. We know that each insertion has the potential to create a new recombinant fiber with commercial applications.â€
Since Kraig Biocraft first obtained the right to use the spider silk gene sequence in this particular field of research, they have significantly improved the insertion process. Their approach is a unique protein expression system that is potentially highly scalable and cost effective in producing a variety of proteins that can be marketed to the pharmaceutical and fibers markets, although spider silk remains the primary goal of the company. The company has successfully inserted into silkworms the DNA packets containing the unique gene sequence used by spiders to produce silk, but work remains to be done for the actual commercial production of spider silk.
Spider silk is, by weight, much stronger than steel, with a much greater ability to absorb and dissipate energy. This strength to weight ratio promises a wide range of applications, and a huge commercial market.
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