Is There Such a Thing as a Spider Goat?

Posted by Stacey Venzel

It's a bird... it's a plane... it's... a spider goat?

The name sounds crazy and the truth is even crazier, but spider goats really do exist. They look like goats, but transplanted spider genes give them Spiderman superpowers... or at least spider silk milk that can be spun into webs.

The milk of a spider goat has one extra protein, the spider silk protein, which scientists extract. While spider silk is not quite as strong as steel, it is comparable. But other properties of spider silk make it ideal for engineering. It is much lighter weight than steel and incredibly elastic, making it a candidate for artificial ligaments or tendons and surgery sutures.

Spider webs were traditionally used for patching wounds back in in the first century. The thread could even be used in bulletproof vests and air bags. The implanted silk gene comes from golden orb weaver spiders, known to produce the strongest webs of all the arachnids.

Spider farms tried and failed; the spiders battled each other to death due to a territorial and cannibalistic nature, as any tarantula owner would know. Without the possibility of a spider farm for bioengineering, transgenic goats entered the biosphere.

The gene is implanted into a female goat. When she has kids and begins producing milk, the spider protein is expressed in the milk. The gene can be passed down to offspring, but like other genes, not every kid will get this spider gene, meaning spider goats can produce regular goat children. Regardless, all of the bucking ruminants still act like typical head-butting goats.

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While the liquid looks just like any other mammal milk, the protein can be extracted and spun in a laboratory setting. It only takes four drops of the silk protein to spin four yards of silk threads. Next up, researchers are thinking of transplanting the gene into alfalfa plants.

Scientists are not just playing around with these bioengineering possibilities. The strength of the silk even has implications even in jaw repair and eye surgery.

Next up in the world of superhero livestock: the bat cow, not just your average heifer.

Is There Such a Thing as a Spider Goat?