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Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 19:19 GMT


Scientists spin fluorescent green silk

Silk worms that produce fluorescent green fibres have been created by Japanese genetic engineers, opening up new opportunities for the fabric industry.

[ image: The silk worm in normal light]
The silk worm in normal light
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."

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.

[ image: The silk worm under fluorescent conditions]
The silk 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 been successful.

Industrial uses

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.

[ image: The view of silk glands from normal (left) and genetically engineered silk worms]
The view of silk glands from normal (left) and genetically engineered silk worms
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.

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 into moths.

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