Microcompartmentalization Controls Silk Feedstock Rheology

Marco Elvino Miali, Dror Eliaz, Aleksei Solomonov, Ulyana Shimanovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rheological characteristics of pre-spun native silk protein, which is stored as a viscous pulp inside the silk gland, are the key factors that determine the mechanical performance of the endpoint material: the spun silk fibers. In silkworms and arthropods, microcompartmentalization was shown to play an important regulatory role in storing and stabilizing the aggregation-prone silk and in initiating the fibrillar self-assembly process. However, our current understanding of the mechanism of stabilization of the highly unstable protein pulp in its soluble state inside the microcompartments and of the conditions required for initiating the structural transition in protein inside the microcompartments remains limited. Here, we exploited the power of droplet microfluidics to mimic the silk protein’s microcompartmentalization event; we introduced changes in the chemical environment and analyzed the storage-to-spinning transition as well as the accompanying structural changes in silk fibroin protein, from its native fold into an aggregative β-sheet-rich structure. Through a combination of experimental and computational simulations, we established the conditions under which the structural transition in microcompartmentalized silk protein is initiated, which, in turn, is reflected in changes in the silk-rich fluid behavior. Overall, our study sheds light on the role of the independent parameters of a dynamically changing chemical environment, changes in fluid viscosity, and the shear forces that act to balance silk protein self-assembly, and thus, facilitate new exploratory avenues in the field of biomaterials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8984-8995
Number of pages12
Issue number26
Early online date21 Jun 2023
StatePublished - 4 Jul 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Spectroscopy
  • General Materials Science
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Electrochemistry


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