LOGAN — Ready for an amazing spider-related sequel? Well, you’ll have to wait until July to see Spider-Man in theaters, but two Utah State University faculty members already have welcomed two sets of cloned spider goat twins.
Spider goats, as scientists informally call them, are goats that have been modified as embryos to introduce a spider gene that allows the female goats to produce a milk containing spider silk. The strong silk substance, not in web form, is then isolated and purified before use.
USU molecular biologist Randy Lewis has been working with enzymes for more than three decades, hoping to produce a super-strong, ultralight fiber that can be used in making protective garments or in making artificial tendons and ligaments for use in surgery, among other applications.
Producing one spider goat at a time is impressive, but USU’s Irina Polejaeva, associate professor in the Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences Department, suspected she could speed that up.
Polejaeva was on the team of geneticists that first cloned a pig.
Lewis selected his best spider silk milk producer, Daisy, and gave skin cell samples to Polejaeva and her team, asking them to create the first set of cloned spider goats at Utah State.
“Because we need large quantities of milk to get large quantities of silk, it makes sense to copy our best producer,” Lewis said.
Four embryos created from the DNA of Daisy, a white goat, were implanted in two black goats. The resulting white kids have been genetically tested to confirm they are true clones of Daisy, Lewis said.
This marks the first time transgenic goats — those containing DNA from another life form, in this case, spiders — have been cloned in Utah, Lewis said.
“For the most part, it was a demonstration,” Lewis said. “If we want to expand our goat herd, it only makes sense to reproduce the best milk producers we have.”
Transgenic goats also can be bred, but traditional breeding introduces the DNA of the father and reduces the amount of DNA from the high-milk-producing mother, he said.
“This is a way to virtually duplicate our top producers.”
Proving his ability to increase the herd would be a selling point for investors and future commercial clients, Lewis said. He heads a USTAR business, based on his research, called Synthetic BioManufacturing Institute.
The Utah Science Technology and Research initiative is a long-term, state-funded investment to strengthen Utah’s “knowledge economy.” People with specialized technology and research knowledge are encouraged to start businesses that could create more high-tech jobs in the state.
Polejaeva is a member of another business group, the Veterinary Diagnostics and Infectious Diseases USTAR team.
Lewis is excited about the research strides he has made since joining the USU faculty last summer.
“Because of the results of this test, we are looking into making more transgenic goats this fall,” he said.
“We wanted to make sure we could create a new embryo and do a successful transfer, and now we know we can.”