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Comparative architecture of silks, fibrous proteins and their encoding genes in insects and spiders.

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Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.

Erratum in

  • Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Aug;135(4):721-2.


The known silk fibroins and fibrous glues are thought to be encoded by members of the same gene family. All silk fibroins sequenced to date contain regions of long-range order (crystalline regions) and/or short-range order (non-crystalline regions). All of the sequenced fibroin silks (Flag or silk from flagelliform gland in spiders; Fhc or heavy chain fibroin silks produced by Lepidoptera larvae) are made up of hierarchically organized, repetitive arrays of amino acids. Fhc fibroin genes are characterized by a similar molecular genetic architecture of two exons and one intron, but the organization and size of these units differs. The Flag, Ser (sericin gene) and BR (Balbiani ring genes; both fibrous proteins) genes are made up of multiple exons and introns. Sequences coding for crystalline and non-crystalline protein domains are integrated in the repetitive regions of Fhc and MA exons, but not in the protein glues Ser1 and BR-1. Genetic 'hot-spots' promote recombination errors in Fhc, MA, and Flag. Codon bias, structural constraint, point mutations, and shortened coding arrays may be alternative means of stabilizing precursor mRNA transcripts. Differential regulation of gene expression and selective splicing of the mRNA transcript may allow rapid adaptation of silk functional properties to different physical environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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