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Genetic Factors in Silk Production


Researchers have unveiled the genetic factors influencing cocoon colors and adaptations in silk-producing insects, shedding light on the intricate mechanisms that have revolutionized the silk industry. Renowned as the “queen of fibers,” silk’s beauty and luxury have been cherished for centuries, and understanding the underlying genetics offers insights into the remarkable diversity and characteristics of silk.


GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Silk Cocoons: Genetic Revelations and Silk Types
  2. India’s Silk Industry: A Comprehensive Overview

Understanding Silk Cocoons: Genetic Revelations and Silk Types

Cocoon in Silk:
  • A protective layer of silk thread spun by a silkworm around itself.
  • Fine, strong, and lustrous silk thread; cocoon typically oval or round.
  • Utilized to create silk fabric through unwinding and weaving.
Genetic Insights from Silk Moth Domestication:
  • Produced by cocoons of the domesticated silk moth (Bombyx mori), originating from the wild silk moth (Bombyx mandarina) over 5,000 years ago in China.
  • Domesticated silk moth thrives globally, while the ancestral moth persists in regions like China, Korea, Japan, and far-eastern Russia.
Types of Silk:

Wild Silk (Non-mulberry Silks):

  • Includes muga, tasar, and eri silks from moth species like Antheraea assama, Antheraea mylitta, and Samia cynthia ricini.
  • Moths survive independently, caterpillars forage on diverse trees.
  • About 30% of India’s silk production; shorter, coarser threads.

Mulberry Silk:

  • Most common, constitutes 90% of global silk production.
  • Derived from domesticated mulberry silkworm (Bombyx mori) feeding on mulberry leaves.
  • Long, smooth, lustrous fibers suitable for various applications.
Cocoon Colors:
  • Ancestral moth produces brown-yellow cocoons; domesticated silk moth offers a vibrant palette.
  • Pigments from carotenoids and flavonoids in mulberry leaves color silkworm cocoons.
  • Silkworms absorb and transport pigments to silk glands, determining thread color.
  • Water-soluble pigments fade over time; market-available colored silks use acid dyes.
  • Mutations in pigment-related genes contribute to diverse cocoon colors, offering molecular insights.

India’s Silk Industry: A Comprehensive Overview

Production and Global Standing:

  • Second-largest producer of raw silk globally, following China.
  • Produced a substantial 33,739 MT of raw silk in FY 2020-21.
  • Diverse silk types include Mulberry, Tasar, Muga, and Eri, influenced by distinct silkworm feeding habits.
  • Significant contributor to India’s foreign exchange earnings, playing a crucial role in the economy.

Regional Production Dynamics:

  • Karnataka led silk production in FY 2021-22, contributing 32%.
  • Other major contributors: Andhra Pradesh (25%), Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, and West Bengal.

Global Export and Import:

  • Exports to over 30 countries, with top importers including the USA, UAE, China, UK, Australia, and Germany.

Employment and Rural Impact:

  • Employs approximately 9.76 million people in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • Sericulture activities spread across 52,360 villages, contributing to rural livelihoods.

Central Silk Board (CSB):

  • Statutory body established in 1948 under the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India.
  • Headquarters located in Bangalore.
  • Responsible for the overall development, promotion, and support of the sericulture and silk industry in India, encompassing research, extension, training, quality control, and marketing.

-Source: Indian Express

April 2024