Goats And Spiders Are Working Together To Create A Novel Material

d to produce large quantities of the protein, for example, it links up in chains into a disordered, insoluble mess. Its ability to bond with its neighbours can happen in a very ordered or a disordered fashion-depending upon how the proteins fold as they form. Which is why Turner and his colleagues decided to mimic the spider's own method of production by using goat mammary cells. It turns out that the way mammals produce milk proteins and spiders make silk proteins are broadly similar. Both are produced in skin-like epithelial cells, then held in a space, or lumen, where shear stresses on the protein are minimised.

So far so good. But Turner cautions that the work is still in its early stages. It will take about a year before the herd of biosteel goats is large enough for Nexia's scientists to collect the protein they need to start making fabric. Then they will face the next great hurdle: how to match the spider's spinning skill. "Nature probably took a long time to get this process right," he says. "I suspect the same will be true for us."

Author: Phil Cohen, San Francisco
New Scientist issue dated 10 October 1998, page 11



Contact: Claire Bowles
44 171 331 2751
New Scientist

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