Spider silks are the toughest known biological materials, yet are lightweight and virtually invisible to the human immune system, and they thus have revolutionary potential for medicine and industry. Spider silks are largely composed of spidroins, a unique family of structural proteins. To investigate spidroin genes systematically, we constructed the first genome of an orb-weaving spider: the golden orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes), which builds large webs using an extensive repertoire of silks with diverse physical properties. We cataloged 28 Nephila spidroins, representing all known orb-weaver spidroin types, and identified 394 repeated coding motif variants and higher-order repetitive cassette structures unique to specific spidroins. Characterization of spidroin expression in distinct silk gland types indicates that glands can express multiple spidroin types. We find evidence of an alternatively spliced spidroin, a spidroin expressed only in venom glands, evolutionary mechanisms for spidroin diversification, and non-spidroin genes with expression patterns that suggest roles in silk production.
Journal: Nature genetics