Spider Goats: Maximizing Spider-Silk Protein Recovery per Volume of Milk Processed

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

USU Student Showcase

Publication Date


Faculty Mentor

Randolph Lewis


Spider silk, which is composed of proteins, is the strongest naturally produced fiber known, which is why it is a promising material with many applications. However, spiders are territorial and cannibalistic, traits that make harvesting spider silk difficult. The spider-silk lab at Utah State University has developed methods for synthetically producing spider silk using the spider silk genes in various transgenic hosts. The spider silk genes have been spliced into silk worms, alfalfa, E. coli bacteria, and goats for production of the spider silk protein. The main focus of this research is the goats and their spider silk protein. The goats are specially designed to produce the protein only in their milk, which is then processed and purified for further research projects. The efficiency of the milk production, and therefore the production of the spider silk protein needed to be maximized. This is accomplished in two stages. The first stage is to determine which goats in the herd produce the most milk and the most protein as compared to other goats producing the same protein type. Production is then optimized by carrying the best milk and protein producers to the next generation with any added alterations made to sequences for better protein production. The second stage of maximization occurs in the laboratory and involves the determination of the optimal processing method and time to recover the most protein while allowing for the most milk to be processed. Future plans for further optimization include tagging the spider silk protein for easier recovery and developing different methods to purify the harvested protein. The optimized methods for recovery will then be scaled up to accommodate larger milk processing volumes to keep up with milk production and herd size.

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