(ORDO NEWS) — Chinese scientists have made a breakthrough in materials and biotechnology, saying they have been able to genetically modify silkworms to produce silk fibers six times stronger than the traditional material (Kevlar) used to make bulletproof vests.
Junpeng Mi, a PhD candidate at the College of Biological Sciences and Medical Engineering at Donghua University in Shanghai, is the first author of the study, which is featured in the journal Matter. He noted that silkworm silk has long been used in industry due to efficient cultivation methods.
“Hence, using genetically modified silkworms to produce spider silk fiber allows for low-cost, large-scale commercialization,” Mi noted.
Spider silk, which is produced using genetically modified silkworms, has proven to be significantly stronger than traditional silk produced naturally. To create this material, the researchers inserted spider silk protein genes into silkworm DNA using a combination of gene editing technology and hundreds of thousands of microinjections into fertilized silkworm eggs.
The injections were a complex part of the research, but when Mee saw the silkworm’s eyes glow red under a fluorescence microscope, he knew this was a sign of successful genetic modification.
“The exceptionally high mechanical properties of the fibers obtained in this study are promising in this field,” Mi emphasized. “This type of fiber can be used as a surgical suture, meeting a global demand of more than 300 million procedures per year.”
Spider silk fibers also have the potential to create more comfortable clothing and innovative types of bulletproof vests. In addition, they can be used in smart materials, military development, aerospace technology and biomedical engineering.
“We are confident that large-scale commercialization of this unique material is on the horizon,” Mi concluded.
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