Navy, NSF Taps Utah State Professor to Research Spider Silk

Prof. Randy Lewis, a molecular biologist at Utah State University, has received nearly $1.15 million in grants from the Office of Naval Research and National Science Foundation to develop spider silk production methods.

Lewis aims to make technology in which silk-making genes of arachnids are transferred to other animals to help boost production, USU said July 23.

USU’s Lewis Laboratory will work to analyze a material called piriform, which the professor says is essential to making spider webs.

“Spiders successfully attach webs to rocks, trees and other surfaces right next to water in very humid environments,” Lewis said.

“We’re trying to see if we can produce this material synthetically, test its adhesive properties and duplicate its function” in line with the Navy’s concept of a “Velcro-type fastener that would attach to surfaces underwater,” Lewis added.

USU says this project will take place at the Lewis Laboratory of the Synthetic Biomanufacturing Institute and will involve involve at least 29 students, four of which are pursuing postdoctoral degrees.

One NSF grant falls under its Partnerships for Innovation program and aim to spur silk production through studies of factors that affect bacterial growth and silkworm feeding methods.

Lewis Lab and Logan-based Caissons Laboratories will collaborate on this research venture.

The other NSF grant involves a two-year partnership between Lewis Lab and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that will aim to apply a technique called electrospinning in manufacturing synthetic silk for commercial purposes.

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