Shelob vs. the Sandworm

And glowing red eyes, to boot. Well, they're not actually huge (yet), but they are genetically modified hybrids of silkworms with spider genes added to make their silk stronger. I think the GM engineers added the glowing red eyes just to freak us out.

Some commenters to this "Not Exactly Rocket Science" article raised the specter of escaped silkworm super-hybrids wreaking havoc in the natural world, only to be reassured that silkworms have been domesticated for so long they can't survive in the wild. Oh, sure: that's what they said about the lysine contingency.

We have some friends who raised silkworms long ago in California. They haven't tried it here in Texas; something about the food supply or the climate. Anyway, it sounds at least as wonderful as beekeeping, another seductive hobby. But now it seems my attention is to be diverted by the spiders, and I'm going to have to put my hands on Leslie Brunetta's "Spider Silk," which offers information about the fascinating proteins that make up this amazing substance. (Ha! It's available on Kindle, and I can have it instantly! -- as if I didn't already have a high enough pile of books to read.)

It was a touch of genius to get the silkworms to start spinning spider silk, because they produce their fibers in the more useful form of long, continuous strands wrapped around a cocoon, unlike the tangles favored by most spiders. Someone is even working on worm genes that will impregnate the modified silk with bacteriocides, so that it will make a better wound suture. Can elf-cloaks be far behind? Beanstalks?


james said...

I recall a few years back reading of a Chinese group that were working with water-repellent surfaces created from molds of the microstructure of lily pad leaves. And there's the work on sequestering heavy metals from contaminated soil in plants; it wouldn't seem impossible to this non-specialist to do some soil desalinization as well.

If we're willing to take a long term view of research and not expect results in merely 10 years, there are all sorts of useful possibilities.

Texan99 said...

Yes, I read about microcritters who could amend salt incursion in soils some years back. There seem to be few things a cell can't do along those lines.

As the articles about this spider-silk said, the material is a lot like rayon, which we can make out of cellulose, but only with a lot of energy and some really nasty by-products. Spiders do it on a budget of dead bugs. I guess there's a little spider poop, but not so's you'd notice.