Cross-linking in the silks of bees, ants and hornets.


Silk production is integral to the construction of nests or cocoons for many Aculeata, stinging Hymenopterans such as ants, bees and wasps. Here we report the sequences of new aculeate silk proteins and compare cross-linking among nine native silks from three bee species (Apis mellifera, Bombus terrestris and Megachile rotundata), three ant species (Myrmecia forficata, Oecophylla smaragdina and Harpegnathos saltator) and three hornets (Vespa analis, Vespa simillima and Vespa mandarinia). The well studied silks of spiders and silkworms are comprised of large proteins that are cross-linked and stabilized predominantly by intra and intermolecular beta sheet structure. In contrast, the aculeate silks are comprised of relatively small proteins that contain central coiled coil domains and comparatively reduced amounts of beta sheet structure. The hornet silks, which have the most beta sheet structure and the greatest amount of amino acid sequence outside the coiled-coil domains, dissolve in concentrated LiBr solution and appear to be stabilized predominantly by beta sheet structure like the classic silks. In contrast, the ant and bee silks, which have less beta sheet and less sequence outside the coiled-coil domains, could not be dissolved in LiBr and appear to be predominantly stabilized by covalent cross-linking. The iso-peptide cross-linker, ε-(γ-glutamyl)-lysine that is produced by transglutaminase enzymes, was demonstrated to be present in all silks by mass spectrometry, but at greater levels in silks of ants and bees. The bee silks and ant cocoons, but not the Oecophylla nest silks, appeared to be further stabilized by tanning reactions.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ibmb.2014.02.009

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@article{Campbell2014CrosslinkingIT, title={Cross-linking in the silks of bees, ants and hornets.}, author={Peter M. Campbell and Holly E. Trueman and Qiang Zhang and Katsura Kojima and Tsunenori Kameda and Tara D. Sutherland}, journal={Insect biochemistry and molecular biology}, year={2014}, volume={48}, pages={40-50} }