The widespread prevalence and functional significance of silk-like structural proteins in metazoan biological materials

McDougall, Carmel, Woodcroft, Ben J. and Degnan, Bernard M. (2016) The widespread prevalence and functional significance of silk-like structural proteins in metazoan biological materials. PLoS ONE, 11 7: e0159128. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0159128

Author McDougall, Carmel
Woodcroft, Ben J.
Degnan, Bernard M.
Title The widespread prevalence and functional significance of silk-like structural proteins in metazoan biological materials
Journal name PLoS ONE   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1932-6203
Publication date 2016-07-14
Year available 2016
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0159128
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 11
Issue 7
Start page e0159128
Total pages 18
Place of publication San Francisco, CA, United States
Publisher Public Library of Science
Language eng
Subject 2700 Medicine
1300 Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
1100 Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Abstract In nature, numerous mechanisms have evolved by which organisms fabricate biological structures with an impressive array of physical characteristics. Some examples of metazoan biological materials include the highly elastic byssal threads by which bivalves attach themselves to rocks, biomineralized structures that form the skeletons of various animals, and spider silks that are renowned for their exceptional strength and elasticity. The remarkable properties of silks, which are perhaps the best studied biological materials, are the result of the highly repetitive, modular, and biased amino acid composition of the proteins that compose them. Interestingly, similar levels of modularity/repetitiveness and similar bias in amino acid compositions have been reported in proteins that are components of structural materials in other organisms, however the exact nature and extent of this similarity, and its functional and evolutionary relevance, is unknown. Here, we investigate this similarity and use sequence features common to silks and other known structural proteins to develop a bioinformatics-based method to identify similar proteins from large-scale transcriptome and whole-genome datasets. We show that a large number of proteins identified using this method have roles in biological material formation throughout the animal kingdom. Despite the similarity in sequence characteristics, most of the silk-like structural proteins (SLSPs) identified in this study appear to have evolved independently and are restricted to a particular animal lineage. Although the exact function of many of these SLSPs is unknown, the apparent independent evolution of proteins with similar sequence characteristics in divergent lineages suggests that these features are important for the assembly of biological materials. The identification of these characteristics enable the generation of testable hypotheses regarding the mechanisms by which these proteins assemble and direct the construction of biological materials with diverse morphologies. The SilkSlider predictor software developed here is available at
Keyword Biological structures
Silk-like structural proteins (SLSPs)
Metazoan biological materials
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Grant ID LP0990280
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: HERDC Pre-Audit
Australian Centre for Ecogenomics
School of Biological Sciences Publications
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