Post-Secretion Processing Influences Spider Silk Performance

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Publication Date

Fall 2012


Phenotypic variation facilitates adaptations to novel environments. Silk is an example of a highly variable biomaterial. The two-spidroin (MaSp) model suggests that spider major ampullate (MA) silk is composed of two proteins-MaSp1 predominately contains alanine and glycine and forms strength enhancing β-sheet crystals, while MaSp2 contains proline and forms elastic spirals. Nonetheless, mechanical properties can vary in spider silks without congruent amino acid compositional changes. We predicted that post-secretion processing causes variation in the mechanical performance of wild MA silk independent of protein composition or spinning speed across 10 species of spider. We used supercontraction to remove post-secretion effects and compared the mechanics of silk in this 'ground state' with wild native silks. Native silk mechanics varied less among species compared with 'ground state' silks. Variability in the mechanics of 'ground state' silks was associated with proline composition. However, variability in native silks did not. We attribute interspecific similarities in the mechanical properties of native silks, regardless of amino acid compositions, to glandular processes altering molecular alignment of the proteins prior to extrusion. Such post-secretion processing may enable MA silk to maintain functionality across environments, facilitating its function as a component of an insect-catching web.

Publication Title

Journal of the Royal Society, Interface





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