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WELLSVILLE — There is something very different about the goats at Utah State University’s south farm in Wellsville. For starters, the nearly two dozen animals are called ‘spider goats’ and it is not because of their looks or personality. They earned that title because their milk produces a special protein that can be turned into a material just as strong as a spider’s web.
“I get asked if they shoot out spider’s webs,” USU Agriculture Science student Savannah Callahan laughs as she milks a goat. “I know a lot of people do think there is a difference, but really it’s just there is spider protein in their milk."
Callahan spends a couple of days a week with the animals, and said just by the looks of it, you wouldn’t know they produce such valuable material.
“They look like your average goats, but they are far from it,” she said.
Through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, these goats inherited a gene that gives their milk a certain protein that scientists make into a variety of strong materials.
“We purify the milk’s protein and we spin fibers or make gels or coatings or whatever else we want from that,” USU Biology professor Randy Lewis said.
“We can make things like strong adhesives, stronger than Gorilla Glue, and materials that can replace carbon fiber,” he said. “You can actually wrap this around 360 degrees, and it won’t break.”
He said they eventually hope to use the spider silk material to form durable artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders.
“We see this as another step forward,” Lewis said.
Researchers at USU said they are in the beginning stages, but they are making progress and have found a way to create the material on a larger scale. They said it would be a while before the material enters commercial markets.