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Biomacromolecules. 2007 Jan;8(1):175-81.

Some observations on the structure and function of the spinning apparatus in the silkworm Bombyx mori.

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Department of Biotechnology, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Koganei, Tokyo 184-8588, Japan.


Silkworm silk has outstanding mechanical properties despite being spun at room temperature and from aqueous solution. Although it has been proposed that fiber formation is mainly induced by shearing and extensional flow in the spinneret, the detailed structure and function of the spinning apparatus of Bombyx mori silkworms are still not fully elucidated. In this paper we describe three aspects of the functional microanatomy of the spinning apparatus: changes in the diameter of the silk gland duct with distance along the duct, how the birefringence of the fibroin changes as it flows down the duct, and the detailed three-dimensional structure of the silk press and related structures. The existence of a double escaped nematic liquid crystal texture in the fibroin in a region of the duct is described. After this region the birefringence suddenly disappeared until the start of an internal draw down taper which commenced just before the silk press. In the internal draw down taper the birefringence increased dramatically to an asymptotic value as a thread was drawn from the fibroin gel. The structure of the silk press suggests that it acts as a restriction die whose diameter can be regulated.

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