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USTAR Researcher Randy Lewis Developing Ancient Biomaterial for the Future

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012

USU USTAR researcher Randy Lewis with goats

USTAR researcher Randy Lewis with transgenic goats at USU's South Farm. Lewis is pioneering methods of mass producing artificial spider silk.

The list of possible applications for artificial spider silk continues to grow as news of Utah State University scientist Randy Lewis’ research spreads.

“We are working on ways to mass-produce innovative materials that are stronger than steel and stretchier than nylon,” says Lewis, who joined USU’s Synthetic Bio-Manufacturing Center as a USTAR professor of biology in 2011.

Lewis and his team, which includes graduate and undergraduate student researchers, is transferring silk-producing genes from spiders to goats, silkworms, E. coli bacteria and alfalfa, to experiment with ways of producing large quantities of silk with varied properties for varied uses.

The Aug. 30, 2012, online issue of Popular Mechanics features half a dozen projected applications for the super strong, super lightweight fibers in “6 Spider-Silk Superpowers.” These uses range from ‘second skin’ body armor and safer vehicle airbags to an array of medical applications, including artificial skin and ligaments.

In yet another application featured in Nature Medicine’s July 9, 2012, “Spoonful of Medicine” blog, spider silk protein is envisioned as a medium for preserving and transporting heat-sensitive vaccines to remote areas lacking refrigeration.

Lewis was among featured speakers for Science Unwrapped’s fall 2011 series, hosted by the College of Science, and, in spring 2012, for USU’s Sunrise Sessions series in Salt Lake City, coordinated by the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Office. He is among featured speakers for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s fall 2012 seminar series. Lewis speaks Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 4 p.m. in Widtsoe Hall, Room 330.

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