Spiderman... or is it Spidergoat ?

In movies and comic books, Spiderman spins webs to catch his enemies. But, goats spinning spider webs, with a little help from researchers, are not as common. Or are they... ?

Spiderman has been adapted many times over for the movie screen, and is, without a doubt, quite impressive. With a simple flick of his wrist, he can project thread as solid as steel, enabling him to swing from building to building and to catch his enemies. It's as if Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman in 1962, knew that these unbelievable powers did not come about by chance. Peter Parker turns into a super hero for the simple reason that he got bitten by a mutant arachnid that had escaped from a genetic research laboratory. The genes of this insect slot into Peter's DNA, for better or for worse... In the real world, could such an accident happen ? No : a spider bite, even that of a mutant one, may hurt but that's about it ! A lot more bites would be needed to change one or more DNA sequences. In reality, apart from natural evolution of species, genetic mutation can only be caused by radioactive exposure or retrovirus action.

However, there is a technique that involves replacing or adding one or several genes from one species into the DNA of another species, even when the two species are very different. This is known as Transgenesis. Take the spiders for example ; their silk threads have amazing properties. It is highly hard-wearing, extremely light and very flexible. If it were available in large quantities, it could be used to manufacture bullet-proof vests, stronger medical stitches or artificial tendons... The only problem is that spiders are jealous creatures - each protect their territory fiercely - and are therefore impossible to tame. No one has yet managed to synthesize artificial silk. The only solution is to have other, more docile, living creatures produce this silk and possibly in much larger quantities.

Silky Goats

Since 2001, a Canadian company, Nexia Biotechnologies, has been producing this much coveted silk using... goats ! The original silk-producing spider gene was isolated and then introduced into a single-celled goat embryo. This cell, now transgenic, was then placed into a surrogate female goat. When any female offspring reached adulthood, they were able to produce "silky" milk. But, turning this into bullet-proof vests was still out of the question. What these goats were producing was silk proteins and not spiders' thread. So, the milk had to be filtered in order to obtain one to ten grams of protein per liter. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet unlocked the secret of the spider's spinning. For the time being, despite four years of research, scientists at Nexia Biotechnologies have only managed to produce thread that is not as advantageous as natural spider thread. But progress is being made... Of course, this technique will not be carried out on humans, for the simple reason that human genetic manipulation is forbidden, which is a good thing ! Even if a mad scientist attempted to carry out the experiment, it would only result in a human being producing silk proteins and not a super hero swinging from creepers. Spiderman won't be knocked off his podium by Spidergoat just yet !

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