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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Craig A. Vierra

First Committee Member

Geoffrey Lin-Cereghino

Second Committee Member

Douglas Weiser


Spiders are capable of producing a variety of silk types, each with their own unique protein composition and function. Dragline silk in particular, has been of great interest due to its high tensile strength and extensibility. In the past, synthetically produced dragline fibers have not been able to match the superior properties of natural silk. A recent discovery in the western black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus, might be the missing link between the current state of synthetic silks and naturally produced fibers. Our research is centered around the discovery a new family of five low-molecular-weight cysteine-rich proteins (CRPs) and their potential function within dragline silk. This study focuses on the characterization of recombinantly expressed CRP1, CRP2, and CRP4. Through structural analysis using circular dichroism, it has been determined that the CRP family members have mostly alpha-helical secondary structure and exhibit small differences in their ability to maintain their structure in the presence of changing environmental conditions. The study also covers the effects of temperature and pH on the folding and unfolding of the CRPs. It appears that pH is the dominant influence on protein unfolding within the major ampullate gland.

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