Spiderwebs and Silk: Tracing Evolution from Molecules to Genes to Phenotypes

By Catherine L. Craig | Go to book overview

3
The Mechanical Functions of Silks
and Their Correlated Structural
Properties

with C. Riekel

Chapter 1 provides background information on why and how different amino acids can affect the folding patterns of silk proteins. In considering these configurations, chapter 2 describes how molecular genetic processes can result in the substitution of one amino acid for another. The remaining chapters identify factors that can act as selective agents on the protein variation that the molecular genetic processes generate.

Five hypotheses have been advanced to explain the diversity and evolution of silks spun by the Orbiculariae: (1) random genetic events (Rudall and Kenchington 1971); (2) selection for synthetic efficiency (Mita et al. 1988; Candelas et al. 1990; Hayashi and Lewis 1998; chapter 2); (3) selection for mechanical properties such as strength and elasticity (Denny 1976; Denny 1980; Gosline et al. 1984; Craig 1987a; Gosline et al. 1994; Ko ¨hler and Vollrath 1995); (4) selection for reduced reflectance and hence reduced web visibility (chapter 4); and (5) selection for amino acids that may reflect the composition or diet of the silk producer's prey (chapter 7). None of these hypotheses is exclusive of the others as each addresses a different aspect of silk synthesis or function. For example, the three different types of fibroins that spiders spin are made of highly repetitive sequences of amino acids that result in a high probability of cross-over, random

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