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PLoS One. 2007 Jun 13;2(6):e514.

Blueprint for a high-performance biomaterial: full-length spider dragline silk genes.

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Department of Biology, University of California Riverside, Riverside, California, United States of America.


Spider dragline (major ampullate) silk outperforms virtually all other natural and manmade materials in terms of tensile strength and toughness. For this reason, the mass-production of artificial spider silks through transgenic technologies has been a major goal of biomimetics research. Although all known arthropod silk proteins are extremely large (>200 kiloDaltons), recombinant spider silks have been designed from short and incomplete cDNAs, the only available sequences. Here we describe the first full-length spider silk gene sequences and their flanking regions. These genes encode the MaSp1 and MaSp2 proteins that compose the black widow's high-performance dragline silk. Each gene includes a single enormous exon (>9000 base pairs) that translates into a highly repetitive polypeptide. Patterns of variation among sequence repeats at the amino acid and nucleotide levels indicate that the interaction of selection, intergenic recombination, and intragenic recombination governs the evolution of these highly unusual, modular proteins. Phylogenetic footprinting revealed putative regulatory elements in non-coding flanking sequences. Conservation of both upstream and downstream flanking sequences was especially striking between the two paralogous black widow major ampullate silk genes. Because these genes are co-expressed within the same silk gland, there may have been selection for similarity in regulatory regions. Our new data provide complete templates for synthesis of recombinant silk proteins that significantly improve the degree to which artificial silks mimic natural spider dragline fibers.

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