MILES O’BRIEN: This is a story about silk and milk.
The silk is from golden orb weave spiders. HEATHER ROTHFUSS: Here you go, pumpkin. MALE: They’re incredibly inquisitive.
They’re a lot of fun. MILES O’BRIEN: The milk from specially bred goats. Good luck trying to connect those dots.
So what’s the thread? RANDY LEWIS: There’s a lot of interesting
spider silk fibers because they’re stronger than almost any other man-made
fiber and they also are elastic. MILES O’BRIEN: Because its stronger ounce
for ounce than other materials, there are many possible medical uses;
from artificial ligaments to sutures for surgery. RANDY LEWIS: So the question is how
do you produce large amounts of the material. MILES O’BRIEN: Spider farms just dont work.
They tend to kill each other. So, molecular biologist Randy Lewis figured out
how to put the spiders silk-making genes into goats. RANDY LEWIS: What we did was put that gene
into some goats in a situation where they would only make the protein in their milk.
And when the goats have kids and then they start lactating, we collect the milk and we can purify that
protein in much, much higher quantities. MILES O’BRIEN: With help from the National
Science Foundation, Lewis studies spider silk at the University of
Wyoming. And so far, Lewis says he’s seen no differences in the health or appearance of the
transgenic goats. RANDY LEWIS: Good girl. Well, come on. Come on.
I know, you dont want to go down. MILES O’BRIEN: Feeding and milking goats and
wrangling spiders are sometimes part of the job. RANDY LEWIS: So we collect the milk out here and
then we take it back to the lab for processing. HEATHER ROTHFUSS: The silk were particularly
curious about is the dragline. That’s the outside of the web.
It’s the strongest part of the structure. MILES O’BRIEN: Chemical Engineer Heather
Rothfuss separates the silk protein from the milk. No arachnophobia for her. In fact,
she’s actually warmed up to working with spiders. MALE: I’m on the roll now. So, it’s collecting okay. MILES O’BRIEN: Just four drops of protein process
from the milk can be spun into four yards of silk. RANDY LEWIS: And so, there will be a lot of applications; eye surgery, plastic surgery,
neurosurgery MILES O’BRIEN: The lab is also introducing
genes into alfalfa plants. So, how do people
react to this tangled web of a tale? RANDY LEWIS: They understand
that you can’t just farm spiders, so you’ve got to come up with another way to make the material. MILES O’BRIEN: No kidding. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.