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Concept: European garden spider


Orb-weaving spiders (Araneidae) are commonly regarded as generalist insect predators but resources provided by plants such as pollen may be an important dietary supplementation. Their webs snare insect prey, but can also trap aerial plankton like pollen and fungal spores. When recycling their orb webs, the spiders may therefore also feed on adhering pollen grains or fungal spores via extraoral digestion. In this study we measured stable isotope ratios in the bodies of two araneid species (Aculepeira ceropegia and Araneus diadematus), their potential prey and pollen to determine the relative contribution of pollen to their diet. We found that about 25% of juvenile orb-weaving spiders' diet consisted of pollen, the other 75% of flying insects, mainly small dipterans and hymenopterans. The pollen grains in our study were too large to be taken up accidentally by the spiders and had first to be digested extraorally by enzymes in an active act of consumption. Therefore, pollen can be seen as a substantial component of the spiders' diet. This finding suggests that these spiders need to be classified as omnivores rather than pure carnivores.

Concepts: Insect, Plant, Fungus, Animal, Spider, Carnivore, European garden spider, Araneidae


The glue-coated and wet capture spiral of the orb web of the garden cross spider Araneus diadematus is suspended between the dry silk radial and web frame threads. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that the capture spiral is electrically conductive because of necks of liquid connecting the droplets even if the thread is stretched. We examine how this conductivity of the capture spiral may lead to entrapment of charged airborne particles such as pollen, spray droplets and even insects. We further describe and model how the conducting spiral will also locally distort the Earth’s ambient electric field. Finally, we examine the hypothesis that such distortion could be used by potential prey to detect the presence of a web but conclude that any effect would probably be too small to allow an insect to take evasive action.

Concepts: Electric charge, Electricity, Insect, Electrical conductor, Electrical conductivity, Spider, European garden spider, Araneus


Capture success of spider webs has been associated with their microstructure, ornamentation, and wind-induced vibrations. Indirect evidence suggests that statically charged objects can attract silk thread, but web deformations induced by charged insects have not yet been described. Here, we show under laboratory conditions that electrostatically charged honeybees, green bottle flies, fruit flies, aphids, and also water drops falling near webs of cross-spiders (Araneus diadematus) induce rapid thread deformation that enhances the likelihood of physical contact, and thus of prey capture.

Concepts: Insect, Spider silk, Spider, Spider web, Orb-weaver spider, Spinneret, European garden spider, Araneus


Spider silks exhibit remarkable properties, among which the so-called supercontraction, a physical phenomenon by which fibers undergo a longitudinal shrinkage and a radial swelling when exposed to water. The process is marked by a significant decrease in chain orientation resulting from plasticisation of the amorphous phase. Despite several studies that determined the Hermans orientation function, more quantitative data are required to be able to describe theoretically the macroscopic water-induced shrinkage from molecular reorganization. Here, we have examined the supercontraction of the major ampullate silk single fibers of Nephila clavipes (Nc) and Araneus diadematus (Ad) using polarized Raman spectromicroscopy. We determined the order parameters, the orientation distribution and the secondary structure content. Our data suggest that supercontraction induces a slight increase in β-sheet content, consistently with previous works. The β-sheet orientation is slightly affected by supercontraction compared to that of the amorphous phase, which becomes almost isotropic with shrinkage. Despite an initially lower orientation level, the Ad fiber shows a larger orientation decrease than Nc, consistently with its higher shrinkage amplitude. Although they share similar trends, absolute values of the orientation parameters from this work differ from those found in the literature. We took advantage of having determined the distribution of orientation to estimate the amplitude of shrinkage from changes in macromolecular size resulting from molecular disorientation. Our calculations show that more realistic models are needed to correlate molecular reorientation/refolding to macroscopic shrinkage. This work also underlines that more accurate data relative to molecular orientation are necessary.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Phase, Fiber, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider, Araneus


To plentifully benefit from its properties (mechanical, optical, biological) and its potential to manufacture green materials, the structure of spider silk has to be known accurately. To this aim, the major ampullate (MA) silk of Araneus diadematus (AD) and Nephila clavipes (NC) has been compared quantitatively in the liquid and fiber states using Raman spectromicroscopy. The data show that the spidroin conformations of the two dopes are indistinguishable despite their specific amino acid composition. This result suggests that GlyGlyX and GlyProGlyXX amino acid motifs (X = Leu, Glu, Tyr, Ser, etc.) are conformationally equivalent due to the chain flexibility in the aqueous environment. Species-related sequence specificity is expressed more extensively in the fiber: the β-sheet content is lower and width of the orientation distribution of the carbonyl groups is broader for AD (29% and 58°, respectively) as compared to NC (37% and 51°, respectively). β-Sheet content values are close to the proportion of polyalanine segments, suggesting that β-sheet formation is mainly dictated by the spidroin sequence. The extent of molecular alignment seems to be related to the presence of proline (Pro) that may decrease conformational flexibility and inhibit chain extension and alignment upon drawing. It appears that besides the presence of Pro, secondary structure and molecular orientation contribute to the different mechanical properties of MA threads.

Concepts: Protein, Amino acid, Secondary structure, Tertiary structure, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider


Recombinant eADF4(C16) represents an engineered spider silk variant based on the sequence of the core domain of the natural dragline silk protein ADF4 of Araneus diadematus. Previously eADF4(C16) has been shown to self-assemble into cross- fibrils in a two-step process of nucleus formation and fibril growth. Here, it is shown that structurally converted low molecular weight oligomers can act as nuclei. Further, it could be determined that specifically potassium and phosphate ions strongly influence both nucleus formation as well as fibril growth. Nucleation of fibril assembly could be surpassed by seeding soluble protein with pre-assembled fibrils but also, unexpectedly, with eADF4(C16) sub-micrometer particles. The latter finding reveals that spider silk fibril assembly seems to be rather dependent on the protein sequence than on the structural features.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Cell, Molecule, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider


This data article includes size exclusion chromatography data of soluble eADF4(C16), an engineered spider silk variant based on the core domain sequence of the natural dragline silk protein ADF4 of Araneus diadematus, in combination with light scattering; the protein is monomeric before assembly. The assembled mature fibrils were visualized by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). Sonicated fibrils were used as seeds to by-pass the nucleation lag phase in eADF4(C16) assembly. We also provide data on the sedimentation kinetics of spider silk in the presence of different NaCl concentrations revealing very slow protein aggregation in comparison to the fast assembly triggered by phosphate ions published previously [1]. Experiments in the Data article represent supporting material for our work published recently [1], which described the assembly mechanism of recombinant eADF4(C16) fibrils.

Concepts: Electron, Atom, Chromatography, Transmission electron microscopy, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider


Assembly of recombinant spider silk variants eADF4(Cn) comprising different numbers (n) of the consensus sequence motif C, derived from the natural Araneus diadematus dragline silk ADF4, yielded indistinguishable nanofibrils in cases of n ⩾ 2. The C-module comprises 35 amino acids rich in glycine and proline residues (in GPGXY repeats) and one polyalanine stretch (Ala)8. All variants were found to be intrinsically disordered in solution, and upon fibril formation they converted into a cross-β structure. Heterologous seeding indicated high structural compatibility between the different eADF4(Cn) variants, however, their assembly kinetics differed in dependence of the number of repeats. Kinetic analysis revealed a nucleation-growth mechanism typical for the formation of cross-β-fibrils, with nucleation rates as well as growth rates increasing with increasing numbers of repeats. Strikingly, the single C-module did not self-assemble into fibrils, but upon addition of heterologous seeds fibril growth could be observed. Apparently, interconnecting of at least two C-modules significantly facilitates the structural transformation from a disordered state into β-sheet structures, which is necessary for nucleation and beneficial for fibril growth.

Concepts: Amino acid, Collagen, Structure, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider, Araneus


Self-assembling protein nano-fibrils are promising structures for the “bottom-up” fabrication of bio-nanomaterials. Here, the recombinant protein eADF4(C16), a variant of Araneus diadematus dragline silk ADF4 which self-assembles into nanofibrils, and short oligonucleotides were modified for site-specific azide-alkyne coupling. Corresponding oligonuleotide-eADF4(C16) “click” conjugates were hybridized in linear or branched fashion according to the designed complementarities of the DNA moieties. Self-assembly properties of higher ordered structures of the spider silk-DNA conjugates were dominated by the silk component. Assembled β-sheet rich conjugate fibrils were similar in appearance to fibrils of unmodified eADF4(C16) but enabled the specific attachment of neutravidin-modified gold nanoparticles on their surface directed by complementary biotin-oligonucleotides, providing the basis for functionalization of such conjugates.

Concepts: DNA, Nanotechnology, Gold, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider, Araneus


Based on the natural sequence of Araneus diadematus Fibroin 4 (ADF4), the recombinant spider silk protein eADF4(C16) has been engineered. This highly repetitive protein has a molecular weight of 48kDa and is soluble in different solvents (hexafluoroisopropanol (HFIP), formic acid and aqueous buffers). eADF4(C16) provides a high potential for various technical applications when processed into morphologies such as films, capsules, particles, hydrogels, coatings, fibers and nonwoven meshes. Due to their chemical stability and controlled morphology, the latter can be used to improve filter materials. In this protocol, we present a procedure to enhance the efficiency of different air filter devices, by deposition of nonwoven meshes of electrospun recombinant spider silk proteins. Electrospinning of eADF4(C16) dissolved in HFIP results in smooth fibers. Variation of the protein concentration (5-25% w/v) results in different fiber diameters (80-1,100 nm) and thus pore sizes of the nonwoven mesh. Post-treatment of eADF4(C16) electrospun from HFIP is necessary since the protein displays a predominantly α-helical secondary structure in freshly spun fibers, and therefore the fibers are water soluble. Subsequent treatment with ethanol vapor induces formation of water resistant, stable β-sheet structures, preserving the morphology of the silk fibers and meshes. Secondary structure analysis was performed using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and subsequent Fourier self-deconvolution (FSD). The primary goal was to improve the filter efficiency of existing filter substrates by adding silk nonwoven layers on top. To evaluate the influence of electrospinning duration and thus nonwoven layer thickness on the filter efficiency, we performed air permeability tests in combination with particle deposition measurements. The experiments were carried out according to standard protocols.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Oxygen, Solvent, Fourier transform spectroscopy, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, European garden spider