Plants may grow spider silk for medical uses

By Peter Kent

William Marcotte

The National Institutes of Health is funding Clemson research seeking to produce synthetic spider silk that could be used to repair the human body.

William Marcotte, associate professor in Genetics and Biochemistry, is investigating ways to insert a spider’s silk-making genes into plants. Unlike silkworms, spider farming is unrealistic because of low silk yields and territorial behavior.

Instead, Marcotte is seeking to produce the fiber-forming protein polymers by transferring recombinant silk genes into plants. He considers tobacco a good candidate for carrying the spider genes. That’s good news for growers who could benefit from a new use for their crop.

The dragline silk of the golden orb weaver spider is the model for the study because it is a strong, elastic, waterproof, stretchable, biodegradable protein fiber. This makes it ideally suited for many applications, such as biodegradable sutures and cell scaffolds for tissue engineering. This research complements work by other Clemson scientists who are investigating ways to spin the silk protein into fiber for the textile industry.

For information: William Marcotte, 864-656-0119,