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Spider Goats In Cache Valley

clone babies

I almost could not believe there was such a thing as spider goats. The gals over at the University of Idaho extension office told me about them. Also they mentioned that they lived here in Cache Valley. And we could go and see them. This totally blew me away.

 

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What are spider goats? They are genetically modified goats. Scientists spliced into the normal goat DNA a gene for producing orb spider silk.  So now when these goats are milked the silk protein can be isolated and spun into silk.

 Science Nation Explains Spider Goats

According to the students who manage the spider goats, and do the milking, the average amount of silk gleaned from one liter of milk is three milliliters of silk. Apparently spider silk is some of the strongest natural fibers around. Which makes sense, do you remember the last time you got “stuck” in a web? The program includes some spider goats that are cloned and some that are bred naturally.

The results are that about half of the naturally bred goats end  up with the spider silk gene. While, of course, 100% of the cloned goats produce silk. There are a variety of goats used as surrogates to carry the cloned goats, though Saneens are the goat breed chosen for the spider goat project here in the valley, The project, when it was started in Canada used Spanish Goats. Apparently they are really good mothers.

Spider Goats, what are they and why do they exist?

I’m not sure how I feel about all of this splicing and cloning going on. From a scientific point of view I find it fascinating. You’ve got to ask yourself, who sits around thinking, “hmm why don’t we just make silk out of goat’s milk”, right?

Other Weird Ways Of Growing Silk

Even more strange perhaps is that the Biological Engineers (yes, they are really called that) have found a strain of e coli that they use to produce silk! They grow the bacteria then rupture it. They capture the tumor that is the silk!

I was talking with this young woman from 4H heading off to Utah State this year. Her plans include becoming a Biological Engineer.  She has been over to the silk labs quite often this summer. And gave me all sorts of really interesting information on the uses of this silk.

For starters the reason they want spider silk instead of silk worm silk is that it is about 500 times stronger.  Silk worms give off their silk by way of cocooning. It takes a whole lot of silk worms, mulberry leaves and people with cast iron stomachs to produce silk that way. Once when I was younger, and lived in Japan, we went on a field trip to a silk factory. The smell haunts me to this day.

Think

Paper plant?

Rotten cabbage?

Truly it is gross.

There are many uses for this silk being stronger than Kevlar it has military applications. Also because of the fine structure it makes great tools in the medical field. One of the ideas is to splice in good, natural antibiotic DNA into the silk production and use the silk for sutures.

spider goat baby

As a person who like the more natural things in life, the idea that we take food and make it something else and then take chemicals and call it food, kind of bothers me.

What do you think about all of this?

 

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Nana

Hart Nana started out a world traveler living in cities and discovered her love of country living later in life. She loves to share her homesteading adventures and what she has learned in hopes that it might better your life and encourage you.

2 thoughts on “Spider Goats In Cache Valley

  1. Being a scientist (geologist) myself, I also find the science fascinating. But i have to ask, “Just because we can, should we?” and then the next logical question is, “Why shouldn’t we do this?”
    What is the motivation behind the project? Is it really to produce spider silk? Is it an exercise in gene splicing? What are the ramifications if the ‘experimental’ goat gene(s)get into the general population? How will ‘they’ insure that these altered goats don’t infect the natural goat herds, like GMOs in our food supply?

    As a practical person, I think the uses for spider silk are nearly endless but wouldnt it be easier, and better, more reliable,more ‘green’ to get spider silk from, let’s say, SPIDERS? They are easy to grow, dont take up much room and are really quiet. Think of it; a Spider Farm right in the middle of town and no one would be the wiser! And in October it could double as a haunted house for extra income.

    1. I like your “doing double duty” thoughts LOL. The explanation, as far as I know, for not farming spiders, is that they eat each other. That said…if you are smart enough to make goat’s milk into silk aren’t you bright enough to figure out how to farm spiders?

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