Synthetic Spider Silk Production in Alfalfa

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USU Student Showcase

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Faculty Mentor

Randolph Lewis


Spider silk has been proven to be one of the strongest known biomaterials. Due to its elasticity and other mechanical properties it is a desirable material for products in medicine, textiles and biomaterials. The two limiting factors in synthetic spider silk production are yield and protein size, protein size being critical in maintaining these desired mechanical properties. Our lab is currently working on overcoming these factors with spider silk production in goats, E. coli and alfalfa. In comparison to these other processes alfalfa would be a cheaper means of production since it is a perennial crop and can be harvested several times a year. Alfalfa also produces proteins similar in size to the native spider silk, 250 kDa-300 kDa. The spider silk protein is expressed in the leaves of the alfalfa plant, allowing us to use the waste or stalks of the plant for ethanol production or livestock feed, thereby eliminating waste. The expected yield in alfalfa is up to 55 kg per acre per year making it a viable process for commercialization. However, it is impossible to accurately determine the yield until we are able to remove the chlorophyll, which interferes with purification and extraction due to its charged nature. Current chlorophyll removal methods, such as in algae and biofuels, are too harsh for our protein to remain intact; thus a new process is necessary for spider silk production in alfalfa.

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