Spider silk lab at USU

Utah State University graduate student researchers Chauncey Tucker and Susie Robinson, and post-doctorate researchers Paula Oliveira and Sreevidhya Krishnaji, in USU's synthetic spider silk lab.

LOGAN — Utah State University has been given a million dollars to continue researching spider silk.

The school announced Monday, Dec. 14 it has been awarded a $1 million Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research contract to team with a Salt Lake City company to provide spider silk for the U.S. Army.

The contract, which is managed by the Army Research Office, will call for Utah State and Technology Holding LLC to provide the Army with multiple lengths of fiber made from synthetic spider silk while testing and analyzing the manufacturing process.

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Randy Lewis, a technology and research professor of biology, said spider silk is one of the strongest, yet most elastic materials known to man and has “almost infinite applications ... in the defense industry.”

“(But) the challenge has always been developing ways in which to produce synthetic spider silk in quantities sufficient enough for mass manufacturing,” Lewis said in a press release.

Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins that are used to create spider silk. In February, USU opened a facility geared toward producing the material in commercial quantities.

• RELATED: Lactating 'spider goats' at USU used to develop silk technology

Lewis said momentum at the facility, which is call the USU Synthetic Bioproducts Center, precipitated the Army contract.

“(The center) has been making great strides in developing processes and technologies to more efficiently produce and process synthetic spider silk,” he said.

Lewis has researched the potential use of spider silk in several areas, including ligament and tendon repair, advanced coating, high-tech clothing, parachutes, bioadhesives, time release coatings and airbags.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook.

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