Discovery - Biology
Spin Fluorescent Green Silk
worms that produce fluorescent green fibers have been created
by Japanese genetic engineers, opening up new opportunities
for the fashion and fabric industries.
Professor Hajime Mori, at the Kyoto
Institute of Technology, told BBC News Online: "Our work has significant
economic potential in improving silk, which is of particular interest
in Kyoto, the traditional home of the kimono."
worm in normal light
However, this is not because bright
new colours are likely to take the world of kimono fashion by
storm. Professor Mori explains that the fluorescence gene would
act as a marker of success.
worm under fluorescent conditions
If a desirable gene, say for greater strength, was successfully
inserted into the silk worm, it would replace the fluorescence
gene. The absence of the green colour would show the process had
Other commercial uses could exploit
the newly-created ability of the silkworm to produce "foreign"
proteins. The spider silk protein, spidroin, could be grown and
harvested with relative ease. It has potential industrial uses
ranging from bullet-proof vests to parachutes.
Professor Mori's team used an insect
virus to insert a jellyfish gene for fluorescence into female moths.
These then mated with normal male moths.
of silk glands from normal (left) and genetically engineered
Around three per cent of larvae
subsequently born produced glow-in-the-dark silk fibres. Two more
generations of larvae were bred from these and the fluorescent
gene was passed down.
Silkworms are the larvae of the
moth Bombyx mori and spin silk for a cocoon in which they develop