William Marcotte: Engineering Spider Silk

William Marcotte, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Genetics & Biochemistry

Nature has developed incredible systems and materials that we would really like to be able to take advantage of.  We’re focusing on one of the silks that’s produced by spiders, namely the dragline fiber silks – these fibers are protein based which makes them very attractive for a number of different applications and they also have very incredible properties.

We have to learn how the spider has been able to put these proteins together into a fiber so that we can then translate that information into an environmentally friendly way to make these new materials.

We can’t count on spiders to do this for us because spiders, as a rule, tend to be the ultimate anti-social creature – being cannibalistic and territorial – it’s impossible to farm them the way you would farm something like a silk worm.

If we should be able to produce sufficient quantities of these proteins in order to make fibers from them – fibers and/or films from them – there are really a lot of different uses that come to mind: everything from incredibly resilient fabrics, to films that may end up being used as body parts for automobiles or in the aerospace industry.