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Protein structure in ultra-tough silk of C. darwini

The spider major ampullate (MA) silk exhibits high tensile strength and extensibility and is typically a blend of MaSp1 and MaSp2 proteins. The MA silk from Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini) is estimated to be two to three times tougher than the MA silk from other spider species. Previous research suggests that a unique MaSp4 protein may explain C. darwini MA silk's extraordinary toughness. However, no direct correlation has been made between the silk's molecular structure and its mechanical properties for C. darwini. Here, we correlate the relative protein secondary structure composition of MA silk from C. darwini and four other spider species with mechanical properties before and after supercontraction to understand the effect of the additional MaSp4 protein. Our results demonstrate that C. darwini MA silk possesses a unique protein composition with a lower ratio of helices (31%) and β-sheets (20%) than other species. Before supercontraction, toughness, modulus and tensile strength correlate with percentages of β-sheets, unordered or random coiled regions and β-turns. However, after supercontraction, only modulus and strain at break correlate with percentages of β-sheets and β-turns. Our study highlights that additional information including crystal size and crystal and chain orientation is necessary to build a complete structure–property correlation model.


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