Nutritionally induced nanoscale variations in spider silk structural and mechanical properties

Sean J. Blamires*, Madeleine Nobbs, Jonas O. Wolff, Celine Heu

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Spider major ampullate (MA) silk is characterized by high strength and toughness and is adaptable across environments. Experiments depriving spiders of protein have enabled researchers to examine nutritionally induced changes in gene expression, protein structures, and bulk properties of MA silk. However, it has not been elucidated if it varies in a similar way at a nanoscale. Here we used Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to simultaneously examine the topographic, structural, and mechanical properties of silks spun by two species of spider, Argiope keyserlingi and Latrodectus hasselti, at a nanoscale when protein fed or deprived. We found height, a measure of localized width, to substantially vary across species and treatments. We also found that Young's modulus, which may be used as an estimate of localized stiffness, decreased with protein deprivation in both species' silk. Our results suggest that nanoscale skin-core structures of A. keyserlingi's MA silk varied significantly across treatments, whereas only slight structural and functional variability was found for L. hasselti's silk. These results largely agreed with examinations of the bulk properties of each species' silk. However, we could not directly attribute the decoupling between protein structures and bulk mechanics in L. hasselti's silk to nanoscale features. Our results advance the understanding of processes inducing skin and core structural variations in spider silks at a nanoscale, which serves to enhance the prospect of developing biomimetic engineering programs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number104873
    Pages (from-to)1-6
    Number of pages6
    JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
    Early online date4 Oct 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


    • Atomic force microscopy
    • Contact
    • Nanoindentation
    • Physical properties
    • Skin-core
    • Structures
    • Spider major ampullate silk


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