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Classy Violin Strings to Contain EntoGenetics’ Spider Silk

 

EntoGenetics is orchestrating a new market for its spider silk.  

The 5-year-old Charlotte company, started with the help of a $22,500 Business Development Loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, has entered a development partnership with a well-known Florida maker of musical instrument strings.

EntoGenetics, which NCBiotech also helped with a $225,000 Small Business Research Loan in 2011, hopes the arrangement will open a whole new pipeline for sales of its unique silk fiber.

Jim Cavanaugh, president of the Sarasota-based Super-Sensitive Musical String Co., a division of the Cavanaugh Company, decided to pluck samples of the EntoGenetics silk after a Japanese researcher published positive results from his painstaking assembly of violin string taken from 300 female golden orb-weaver spiders.

Shigeyoshi Osaki of Japan's Nara Medical University, who has spent years studying the “dragline silk” that spiders dangle from, reported in early 2012 that musicians who tested his spider-silk violin string were intrigued by its strength and unique sound.

Spider silk has long been known as the ultimate textile target. But as Osaki learned, spiders just haven't been willing to be domesticated and trained to give up the huge amounts of silk proffered by silkworms.

EntoGenetics founder David Brigham, Ph.D., a biochemist and geneticist, found a way to harvest high-strength spider silk from the well-established Chinese silkworm process, which dates back thousands of years. He genetically engineered a spider's silk-producing gene into silkworms.

His breakthrough company was featured in the financial publication Forbes in 2009 as one of the top 10 "Breakout Technology" firms.

Now that its silkworms are able to exude prolific quantities of spider silk, EntoGenetics has a corner on a fiber that's five times stronger than steel, two times stronger and ten times more elastic than Kevlar.

Those seductive statistics offer obvious military potential,  for applications such as bulletproof vests, ropes and parachutes, as well as huge market potential for everything from the musical to the medical.

Though the company is not a university spin-out per se, it has a collaborative funding agreement and a visiting scientist arrangement with Marce Lorenzen, assistant professor of entomology at North Carolina State University.

Meanwhile, Super-Sensitive strings, used by many big-name musicians from fiddle-ripper Charlie Daniels to the late Yehudi Menuhin, might soon become popular for their unique arachnophonics – aka spider sound.

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