Sigma Life Science, the biological products and services research business of Sigma-Aldrich, has announced the signing of an agreement with Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc (KBLB) to develop genetically modified silkworms for the production of spider silk, using Sigmas proprietary CompoZr Zinc Finger Nuclease (ZFN) technology. The transfer of silk genes from the spider to the silkworm is expected to allow the mass production of silk with enhanced strength and elasticity with potential textiles and biomedical applications, such as sutures, tendon and ligament repair, bulletproof vests, and automobile airbags.
Since the first published sequence of a spider silk gene in 1990, much research has focused on the production of commercially viable spider silk with high tensile strength and elasticity. In 2010 KBLB made an important advance towards this goal, by producing hybrid silkworms with randomly inserted spider silk genes, yielding hybrid spider-silkworm silk with greater strength and durability than native silkworm silk. The precise gene targeting and high efficiency of Sigmas ZFN technology allows KBLB to build on its revolutionary proof of concept research, by concomitantly targeting the insertion of spider silk genes into the silkworm genome while removing endogenous silkworm silk genes. The resulting transgenic silkworm is expected to be capable of spinning pure spider silk at commercially viable production levels.
ZFN technology has been revolutionary in genome engineering for various applications, including animal models of disease, engineering of biopharmaceutical production systems, academic research and therapeutics, said Dr. Joseph Bedell, Director of Sigma Life Sciences Commercial Animal Technologies Group. Spider silk production is just the first example of a potential commercial animal application for this exciting technology, perfectly positioning Sigma Life Science as a leading provider of innovative technologies that are changing the face of science and improving the quality of life.