Albert Abbott: Artificial Spider Silk

Albert Abbott, PhD
Professor, Genetics and Biochemistry

Spider silk is an interesting biomaterial because it has a very high elasticity, toughness and we are trying to engineer materials made or based upon spider silk type gene structure and purification of the proteins that really are what spider silk is all about.  And then we are working with the materials guys to spin those materials into actual fibers. 

You know from our stand point, we really can't silk spiders to get this material like you can silk worms and so what were doing is engineering simple cellular systems like yeast or bacteria to actually produce the proteins for us in great big bioreactors, and then we harvest that material and then we use that to try to spin new materials from it.  So one of the things the textile industry is very interested in is being able to produce novel materials.  These kinds of materials will have properties that are vastly better than what we currently have. 

So we are actually trying to learn what the spider silk is and how it works and how it's so structurally elastic yet tough and use that information then to make a whole host range of new kinds of materials that would be important for say arterial graphs or tissue reconstruction, things in the medical area as well as in other areas in industrial applications.