Firms claim achievement would allow commercial-scale production of spider silk for biomedical applications.

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories (KBLB) negotiated a license to use Sigma Life Science’s CompoZr zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) gene editing technology for generating genetically modified silkworms that produce spider silk. The firms claim the achievement would provide a source for mass-producing spider silk for potential biomedical applications in ligament and tendon repair, as well as for the manufacture of sutures and a host of nonbiomedical applications. As part of the deal, Sigma Life Sciences has taken a shareholding in KBLB.

The agreement means KBLB will be able to exploit Sigma’s CompoZr ZFN technology to achieve its ultimate goal of engineering spider silk-producing silkworms. In November 2010 the firm announced that a collaboration with its academic partners had succeeded in generating hybrid silkworms with randomly inserted spider silk genes. These silkworms produced a hybrid spider-silkworm silk that KBLB claims is stronger and more durable than native silkworm silk. The aim now is to use the ZFN platform to insert the spider silk genes into the silkworm genome and in parallel remove the endogenous silkworm silk genes. The firms claim the result will be silkworms capable of spinning pure spider silk at commercially viable production levels.

The ZFN technology has already been harnessed for a range of genome-engineering applications including the generation of animal disease models and biopharmaceutical production systems, as well as for academic research and therapeutics-focused research, notes Joseph Bedell, Ph.D., director of Sigma Life Science’s commercial animal technologies group. “Spider silk production is just the first example of a potential commercial animal application for this exciting technology.”

“Sigma-Aldrich’s proprietary zinc finger technologies are extremely powerful tools which enable very precise genetic targeting,” adds KBLB CEO Kim Thompson. “We believe that when these customized tools are delivered by Sigma in the coming weeks, the technology will enable us to rapidly and precisely target specific gene sequences for the creation of stronger fibers, advanced textiles. and new biomaterials. KBLB’s expectation is that the combination of Sigma-Aldrich’s revolutionary technology and know-how, coupled with KBLB’s proprietary biomaterials technology and know-how, will create synergies that will benefit both companies.”

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