Allelic resolution of insect and spider silk genes reveals hidden genetic diversity

Paul B. Frandsen, Scott Hotaling, Ashlyn Powell, Jacqueline Heckenhauer, Akito Y. Kawahara, Richard H. Baker, Cheryl Y. Hayashi, Blanca Ríos-Touma, Ralph Holzenthal, Steffen U. Pauls, Russell J. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Arthropod silk is vital to the evolutionary success of hundreds of thousands of species. The primary proteins in silks are often encoded by long, repetitive gene sequences. Until recently, sequencing and assembling these complex gene sequences has proven intractable given their repetitive structure. Here, using high-quality long-read sequencing, we show that there is extensive variation—both in terms of length and repeat motif order—between alleles of silk genes within individual arthropods. Further, this variation exists across two deep, independent origins of silk which diverged more than 500 Mya: the insect clade containing caddisflies and butterflies and spiders. This remarkable convergence in previously overlooked patterns of allelic variation across multiple origins of silk suggests common mechanisms for the generation and maintenance of structural protein-coding genes. Future genomic efforts to connect genotypes to phenotypes should account for such allelic variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2221528120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number118
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 the Author(s).


  • alleles
  • genomics
  • insects
  • long-read sequencing
  • silk

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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