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Genetic Secrets Behind the Dragline Silk

Biologists at the University of California, Riverside have identified the genes, and determined the DNA sequences, for two key proteins in the 'dragline silk' of the black widow spider an advance that may lead to a variety of new materials for industrial, medical and military uses.

The black widow spiders dragline silk is a standout compared to other spider silks because of its superior strength and extensibility, a combination which enables black widow dragline silk to absorb enormous amounts of energy. These properties suggest that synthetically-produced silk might find applications as diverse as lightweight super-strong body armor, components of medical devices and high-tech athletic attire.

The researchers Associate Professor of Biology Cheryl Hayashi, postdoctoral researchers Nadia Ayoub and Jessica Garb, and graduate students Robin Tinghitella and Matthew Collin report their findings in the June 13 online edition of the journal PLoS ONE, published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

In the article, they describe their work to identify the genes encoding the two key proteins, named MaSp1 and MaSp2, and determine the genes complete DNA sequences. The UCR Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a patent application on the gene sequences.

There are currently no products on the market based on the dragline silk of spiders. 'Theres nothing quite as good yet as natural dragline silk, but we should get a lot closer now that we have the full genetic recipe,' Hayashi said.

With the ingredients and their genetic blueprint now known, it may be possible to synthetically produce the proteins by inserting the genetic sequences into host organisms such as bacteria, plants or animals, she said. Once the pure proteins are harvested, a manufacturing challenge will be spinning them into silk fibers that have the same remarkable properties as spider spun silk. But several advances have recently be
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