Stretching of Bombyx mori Silk Protein in Flow

Thomas Charles McLeish, Charley Schaefer, Peter R. Laity, Chris Holland

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The flow-induced self-assembly of entangled Bombyx mori silk proteins is hypothesised to be aided by the ‘registration’ of aligned protein chains using intermolecularly interacting ‘sticky’ patches. This suggests that upon chain alignment, a hierarchical network forms that collectively stretches and induces nucleation in a precisely controlled way. Through the lens of polymer physics, we argue that if all chains would stretch to a similar extent, a clear correlation length of the stickers in the direction of the flow emerges, which may indeed favour such a registration effect. Through simulations in both extensional flow and shear, we show that there is, on the other hand, a very broad distribution of protein–chain stretch, which suggests the registration of proteins is not directly coupled to the applied strain, but may be a slow statistical process. This qualitative prediction seems to be consistent with the large strains (i.e., at long time scales) required to induce gelation in our
rheological measurements under constant shear. We discuss our perspective of how the flow-induced self-assembly of silk may be addressed by new experiments and model development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1663
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021

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