Biology - Animals

Goats with spider gene produce webs

May 19, 2000 UPI - Milwaukee

Canadian scientists have implanted spider genes in a herd of goats, resulting in the production of silky strands in goat milk that can be used for sutures and other applications. The technique was perfected by Jeffrey Turner, a geneticist and president of Nexia Biotechnologies of Quebec. "We have combined the old and the new," Turner told UPI in a recent interview. "The old is represented by the goats and their milk, which is used to make cheese. The new is genetic engineering." In addition to sutures for eye surgery, the strands - which are harvested from the goat's milk - can be used to reconstruct tendons or ligaments and to repair bones, Turner said, adding that companies like DuPont and 3M have been trying unsuccessfully to duplicate spider web silk in their laboratories for years.

Turner said he has been contacted by numerous pharmaceutical firms seeking to acquire the technique but he said he won't sell.

One major reason for that decision is the fact that Quebec's Caisse de depot et placement, which is responsible for investing Quebec pension funds, has invested several million dollars in the venture. Turner, a native of Ontario, said he decided to base his venture in Quebec because of the province's favorable economic climate.

Turner estimates the technology has a potential market of $2 billion. He expects the silk to go on the medical market within a year under the brand name BioSteelJ.

Additionally, he said, the substance likely has industrial applications, possibly replacing such things as Kevlar. It also could be used to cover domed stadiums and in the aerospace and communications industries.

Both the U.S. and Canadian military have expressed interest in using it for making anti-ballistic defense systems, he said.

Humans Genes Closer To Dolphins' Than Any Land Animals

August 25, 1998 - AP

For years, marine biologists have told us that dolphins share many traits with humans, including intelligence and friendliness. Now, a comparison of dolphin and human chromosomes shows that the genetic make-up of dolphins is amazingly similar to humans. In fact, researchers at Texas A&M University have found that dolphins have more in common with us genetically than cows, horses or pigs.

This information will not only help researchers construct the genetic blueprint of dolphins, but also bolster conservation efforts. Aided by the progress made in mapping the human genome, researchers will continue to identify individual genes on dolphin chromosomes. Busbee estimates it will save them 20 years of work, and the similarities and differences will reveal how long ago humans and dolphins branched off the evolutionary tree.

Researchers at Texas A&M University applied "paints," or fluorescently labeled human chromosomes, to dolphin chromosomes, and found that 13 of 22 dolphin chromosomes were exactly the same as human chromosomes. Of the remaining nine dolphin chromosomes, many were combinations or rearrangements of their human counterparts. Researchers also identified three dolphin genes that were similar to human genes.

Until now, researchers have never been able to do genetic studies of dolphins because they are a protected species, making it difficult to get tissues from them. However, Busbee was able to grow colonies of cells from fetal tissues when a female dolphin miscarried.

"Dolphins are marine mammals that swim in the ocean and it was astonishing to learn that we had more in common with the dolphin than with land mammals," says Horst Hameister, professor of medical genetics at the University of Ulm in Germany.

In the past 15 years, the world's dolphin populations have declined considerably, exacerbated by high levels of PCBs. Researchers speculate that PCBs impair the immune systems of dolphins, leaving them vulnerable to disease.

"If we can show that humans are similar to dolphins, and anything that endangers dolphins is an equal concern for humans, it may be easier to persuade governments to become serious about combating industrial pollution and keeping oceans clean," says Busbee.

By Seema Kumar, Discovery Channel Online News