USU professor’s work advances in synthetic spider silks

From left, Utah State University biology professor Randy Lewis, postdoctoral researcher Ibrahim Hassounah and senior research scientist Justin Jones purify synthetic spider silk produced from transgenic bacteria. Lewis recently received $1.9 million in DOE funding.

Utah State University Professor Dr. Randy Lewis is known internationally for his pioneering work in producing synthetic spider silk. His early research began at the University of Wyoming.

“My lab supplied the genes, we were the first ones to isolate and clone the genes for the spider silk proteins from the spiders,” Dr. Lewis explains. “Then we worked with a company that was up in Canada with the expertise in how to get these genes into goats and get them to produce the spider silk protein in the milks.

“It was a team effort with them supplying the technical know how for goats and us supplying technical know how for spiders.”

How far has the research progressed in 2018?

”We are at the level of beginning to develop prototypes, ranging anywhere from not just fibers, but we’ve found you can use these spider silk proteins to make coatings, to make films, to make gels.

“We are looking at a lot of different things other than just fibers. We’re looking at prototypes for things like coatings for catheter and various kinds of reinforced fibers for various kinds of military applications.”

Before his academic career Dr. Lewis was an accomplished wrestler at Cal Tech and May 20 will be one of five inductees into the school’s athletics hall of honor, recognizing his winning three individual conference championships.

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