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1,000 Spider Silkomes: The Genetics of Spider Silks

An analysis of the genes underlying silk production in more than 1,000 spiders is presented in Science Advances this week, providing insights that may help in the development of new biomaterials. Spider silks are among the toughest known materials, displaying a combination of high tensile strength, extensibility, and exceptional toughness that is unmatched industrially. As a result, these silks are unique models for renewable, biodegradable, and sustainable biopolymers, yet the entirety of their diversity is unknown. To investigate, a group led by scientists from Keio University and Riken sequenced the silk genes of 1,098 spider species encompassing the entire order Araneae using de novo transcriptome sequencing and assembly, as well as measured the mechanical, thermal, structural, and hydration properties of the dragline silks of 446 spider species. The work reveals the design elements responsible for the extraordinary mechanical and physical performances of spider silks and "will serve as a framework for the future analysis of silk proteins and other structural proteins as biomaterials," the study's authors write.