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Title: Unveiling the topmost layers of spider silks by ultra-high resolution mapping of sections
While spider silk threads mainly consist of a core of partially crystalline silk proteins, it has been found that they also exhibit a very thin skin layer of distinctMore>>
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European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Publication Year:
Life Sciences LS-3087 ID13
Award ID(s):
1905902 2105158
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Power amplification allows animals to produce movements that exceed the physiological limits of muscle power and speed, such as the mantis shrimp’s ultrafast predatory strike and the flea’s jump. However, all known examples of nonhuman, muscle-driven power amplification involve anatomical structures that store energy from a single cycle of muscular contraction. Here, we describe a nonhuman example of external power amplification using a constructed device: the web of the triangle-weaver spider, Hyptiotes cavatus , which uses energy stored in the silk threads to actively tangle prey from afar. Hyptiotes stretches its web by tightening a separate anchor line over multiple cycles of limb motion, and then releases its hold on the anchor line when insects strike the web. Both spider and web spring forward 2 to 3 cm with a peak acceleration of up to 772.85 m/s 2 so that up to four additional adhesive capture threads contact the prey while jerking caused by the spider’s sudden stop subsequently wraps silk around the prey from all directions. Using webs as external “tools” to store energy offers substantial mechanical advantages over internal tissue-based power amplification due to the ability of Hyptiotes to load the web over multiple cycles of muscular contractionmore »and thus release more stored energy during prey capture than would be possible with muscle-driven anatomical elastic-energy systems. Elastic power amplification is an underappreciated component of silk’s function in webs and shows remarkable convergence to the fundamental mechanical advantages that led humans to engineer power-amplifying devices such as catapults and ballistae.« less
  2. Many natural silks produced by spiders and insects are unique materials in their exceptional toughness and tensile strength, while being lightweight and biodegradable–properties that are currently unparalleled in synthetic materials. Myriad approaches have been attempted to prepare artificial silks from recombinant spider silk spidroins but have each failed to achieve the advantageous properties of the natural material. This is because of an incomplete understanding of the in vivo spidroin-to-fiber spinning process and, particularly, because of a lack of knowledge of the true morphological nature of spidroin nanostructures in the precursor dope solution and the mechanisms by which these nanostructures transform into micrometer-scale silk fibers. Herein we determine the physical form of the natural spidroin precursor nanostructures stored within spider glands that seed the formation of their silks and reveal the fundamental structural transformations that occur during the initial stages of extrusion en route to fiber formation. Using a combination of solution phase diffusion NMR and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM), we reveal direct evidence that the concentrated spidroin proteins are stored in the silk glands of black widow spiders as complex, hierarchical nanoassemblies (∼300 nm diameter) that are composed of micellar subdomains, substructures that themselves are engaged in the initialmore »nanoscale transformations that occur in response to shear. We find that the established micelle theory of silk fiber precursor storage is incomplete and that the first steps toward liquid crystalline organization during silk spinning involve the fibrillization of nanoscale hierarchical micelle subdomains.

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  3. Abstract Background

    Spiders have evolved two types of sticky capture threads: one with wet adhesive spun by ecribellate orb-weavers and another with dry adhesive spun by cribellate spiders. The evolutionary history of cribellate capture threads is especially poorly understood. Here, we use genomic approaches to catalog the spider-specific silk gene family (spidroins) for the cribellate orb-weaverUloborus diversus.


    We show that the cribellar spidroin, which forms the puffy fibrils of cribellate threads, has three distinct repeat units, one of which is conserved across cribellate taxa separated by ~ 250 Mya. We also propose candidates for a new silk type, paracribellar spidroins, which connect the puffy fibrils to pseudoflagelliform support lines. Moreover, we describe the complete repeat architecture for the pseudoflagelliform spidroin (Pflag), which contributes to extensibility of pseudoflagelliform axial fibers.


    Our finding that Pflag is closely related to Flag, supports homology of the support lines of cribellate and ecribellate capture threads. It further suggests an evolutionary phase following gene duplication, in which both Flag and Pflag were incorporated into the axial lines, with subsequent loss of Flag in uloborids, and increase in expression of Flag in ecribellate orb-weavers, explaining the distinct mechanical properties of the axial lines of these two groups.

  4. Semrau, Jeremy D. (Ed.)
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  5. Synopsis Many flying insects utilize a membranous structure for flight, which is known as a “wing.” However, some spiders use silk fibers for their aerial dispersal. It is well known that spiders can disperse over hundreds of kilometers and rise several kilometers above the ground in this way. However, little is known about the ballooning mechanisms of spiders, owing to the lack of quantitative data. Recently, Cho et al. discovered previously unknown information on the types and physical properties of spiders’ ballooning silks. According to the data, a crab spider weighing 20 mg spins 50–60 ballooning silks simultaneously, which are about 200 nm thick and 3.22 m long for their flight. Based on these physical dimensions of ballooning silks, the significance of these filament-like structures is explained by a theoretical analysis reviewing the fluid-dynamics of an anisotropic particle (like a filament or a high-slender body). (1) The filament-like structure is materially efficient geometry to produce (or harvest, in the case of passive flight) fluid-dynamic force in a low Reynolds number flow regime. (2) Multiple nanoscale fibers are the result of the physical characteristics of a thin fiber, the drag of which is proportional to its length but not to its diameter. Because ofmore »this nonlinear characteristic of a fiber, spinning multiple thin ballooning fibers is, for spiders, a better way to produce drag forces than spinning a single thick spider silk, because spiders can maximize their drag on the ballooning fibers using the same amount of silk dope. (3) The mean thickness of fibers, 200 nm, is constrained by the mechanical strength of the ballooning fibers and the rarefaction effect of air molecules on a nanoscale fiber, because the slip condition on a fiber could predominate if the thickness of the fiber becomes thinner than 100 nm.« less