Not Spider-Man, Spider-Goat!
Video and story by Amaia Horyna
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as spider-goats, and they cannot climb on walls nor shoot web from their hooves.
Danielle Gaztambide, a Judge alumna, has played a role in the research of this genetic experimentation. She is currently a masters student at Utah State University and is working in Dr. Randy Lewis’ Spider Silk Lab. The purpose of the experiments they are conducting is to produce the same proteins that spiders use to spin their silk. The spider that the research is based off of is called the Nephila Clavipes. This species of orb-weaver lives in both North and South America. Because these spiders are cannibalistic, it is not an option to farm them. So, in order to produce the silk they use different hosts. These hosts are: alfalfa, e coli bacteria, silkworms, and goats.
Ethical debate has been called to attention during experimentation. Since they are genetically modifying living organisms, many people in the scientific community have voiced their concerns about how far this project is willing to go to get the results they desire.
"The scientific community is very responsible in that we try to tailor our research and our technologies to do a lot of good," Danielle said. "I think that that is worth it and I think that because it has the potential to do so much good it would be a shame to not harness the power that we have and the power of genetics.”
Fortunately, the goats are not affected negatively by the genetic modification. All of the modification takes place in the embryo before the goats are born. The goats that are born with the modification only have one extra gene, which then leads to them having extra proteins in their milk.
Danielle got involved in this project about three years ago when she was a sophomore in college. After hearing about the lab, she did whatever she could to help and get involved. The majority of her undergraduate research was in spider silk materials. Specifically, she worked with adhesives for biomedicine. Since Danielle is a young researcher, she has had to overcome many personal hurdles. She is constantly surrounded by those who are more experienced than she is so, being young and inexperienced has been a challenge she has had to work with. She also points out that researching something new in the science is difficult and she sometimes finds it daunting to remain motivated.
“Research is hard sometimes. Things don’t go your way, so it's just important to be patient and learn a lot,” Danielle said.
The results of this research could be revolutionary. Spider silk is biocompatible, making it very appealing to a multitude of industries. Medical fields, for example, are interested because materials that are used now could be replaced and made better, stronger, and less harmful to the human body. The textile industry as well as industries that use adhesives are interested because the products of this research include eco-friendly, non-petroleum based adhesives.
“The great thing about this research is that opportunities are endless.”