USTAR professor Randy Lewis of USU’s Synthetic Bio-Manufacturing Center is pioneering research on the manufacture of artificial spider silk. The ultra-strong, lightweight fiber promises multiple applications.
Lewis feeds a goat at USU's research farm. The goats were bred with two spider genes to produce two key proteins used to make spider silk. Those proteins are then harvested through the goat's milk.
Biologist Randy Lewis discusses medical applications for super-strong fiber
Utah State University scientist Randy Lewis is getting a workout on the media circuit as news of his innovative spider silk research reaches all corners of the globe. The USTAR professor, who joined USU’s Department of Biology this past summer, was featured on CNN Newsroom’s The Big I – ideas, innovation, imagination – segment today (30 Aug 2011) via a live Skype interview from USU’s Logan campus. View a video of the interview.
In the segment, Lewis and Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi discussed a recent project in which Essaidi used the genetically engineered spider silk in a lattice of human cells in an attempt to create bulletproof skin. Though the manufactured skin failed to repel bullets fired at normal speed from a .22 caliber rifle, the scientists are encouraged by the results.
“It’s a start and it’s exciting to have opportunities to share our findings with a broad audience,” says Lewis, a member of USU’s Synthetic Bio-Manufacturing Center team.
During the past 20 years, Lewis has pioneered methods of mass producing artificial spider silk. By transferring silk-producing genes from spiders to silkworms, along with goats, E.coli bacteria and alfalfa, the molecular biologist and his team have developed “factories” capable of producing super-strong, lightweight fiber.
Future applications for the manufactured silk could include artificial tendons and ligaments, artificial skin to treat victims of severe burns and improved vehicle airbags, along with more effective and comfortable bulletproof clothing.
Lewis is slated to offer a public presentation of his research on USU’s Logan campus Friday, Nov. 4, as a featured speaker in Science Unwrapped’s ‘Modern Scientific Marvels’ series. His talk, at 7 p.m. in the Eccles Science Learning Center Emert Auditorium, Room 130, is free and open to all.
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