Biomacromolecules, Vol.19, No.3, 906-917, 2018
Structural Comparison of Various Silkworm Silks: An Insight into the Structure-Property Relationship
Silkworm silk has attracted considerable attention in recent years due to its excellent mechanical properties, biocompatibility, and promising applications in biomedical sector. However, a clear understanding of the molecular structure and the relationship between the excellent mechanical properties and the silk protein sequences are still lacking. This study carries out a thorough comparative structural analysis of silk fibers of four silkworm species (Bombyx mori, Antheraea pernyi, Sarnia cynthia ricini, and Antheraea assamensis). A combination of characterization techniques including scanning electron microscopy, mechanical test, synchrotron X-ray diffraction, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and NMR spectroscopy was applied to investigate the morphologies, mechanical properties, amino acid compositions, nanoscale organizations, and molecular structures of various silkworm silks. Furthermore, the structure property relationship is discussed by correlating the molecular structural features of silks with their mechanical properties. The results show that a high content of beta-sheet structures and a high crystallinity would result in a high Young's modulus for silkworm silk fibers. Additionally, a low content of beta-sheet structures would result in a high extensibility.