Utah State Spider Silk Lab Awarded Navy Grant Aimed at Maritime Defense

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July 16, 2018 | Originally published by Utah State University on June 22, 2018

Envisioning a device the U.S. Navy is developing with Utah State University synthetic spider silk conjures images you’d expect in a James Bond thriller. Think strong, stretchy fibers wrapping relentlessly around a boat propeller and effectively foiling nefarious efforts by smugglers, pirates or terrorists.

That’s what nonlethal Maritime Vessel Stopping Occlusion Technologies or ‘MVSOT,’ the official name for these types of devices, are intended to do.

USU’s USTAR-funded Synthetic Spider Silk Lab is the recipient of a $420,000 grant from the U.S. Navy aimed at designing and developing these devices, as well as applying USU silk manufacturing technology to enable commercial-scale production of other biomaterials.

“This project has three major aims that will benefit the Navy and advance our research,” says Randy Lewis, professor in USU’s Department of Biology and lab director.

First is supplying the aforementioned synthetic spider silk made from transgenic bacteria and silkworms, two of four sources the Lewis Lab uses for silk production.

A second aim of the project, Lewis says, is sharing expertise with the Navy on how to produce synthetic slime from hagfish proteins. As a defense from predators, hagfish, eel-like marine creatures, secrete a gooey, microfibrous mucin that greatly expands in seawater.

The third piece of the project is sharing USU expertise on how to scale-up production of hagfish-derived proteins to manufacture commercial-level quantities of the materials, as well as commercial-scale spinning of fibers.

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