Single honeybee silk protein mimics properties of multi-protein silk

Tara D. Sutherland, Jeffrey S. Church, Xiao Hu, Mickey G. Huson, David L. Kaplan, Sarah Weisman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Honeybee silk is composed of four fibrous proteins that, unlike other silks, are readily synthesized at full-length and high yield. The four silk genes have been conserved for over 150 million years in all investigated bee, ant and hornet species, implying a distinct functional role for each protein. However, the amino acid composition and molecular architecture of the proteins are similar, suggesting functional redundancy. In this study we compare materials generated from a single honeybee silk protein to materials containing all four recombinant proteins or to natural honeybee silk. We analyse solution conformation by dynamic light scattering and circular dichroism, solid state structure by Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy, and fiber tensile properties by stress-strain analysis. The results demonstrate that fibers artificially generated from a single recombinant silk protein can reproduce the structural and mechanical properties of the natural silk. The importance of the four protein complex found in natural silk may lie in biological silk storage or hierarchical self-assembly. The finding that the functional properties of the mature material can be achieved with a single protein greatly simplifies the route to production for artificial honeybee silk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere16489
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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