Moth and Butterfly Silks

Silk is a natural protein fiber that is flexible and strong, and it is used in many human applications such as clothing, furniture, medicine, and biomaterials. Silk production has been studied extensively in one moth species, the domestic silkworm (Bombyx mori). However, there is significant variation in silk structure, elasticity and strength between the 160,000 species of Lepidoptera, and very little is known about the underlying genetics of silk. This pilot project will investigate the genetics of silk in three distantly-related exemplar species, the Indian Meal Moth (Plodia interpunctella, Pyralidae), Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda, Noctuidae), and the Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui, Nymphalidae) that produce silk for different purposes. All three species are currently being reared in our labs at UF, and we have already generated some preliminary data. Through this project, we will: 1) Quantify the genomic landscape of silk production by measuring transcript abundance and chromatic accessibility of the silk gland in the three unrelated Lepidoptera species; 2) Develop and test CRISPR/Cas9-mediated functional screening for changes in underlying genomic architecture in silk production in these three species; 3) Build new relationships across multiple UF colleges and departments (Genetics and Genomics, Entomology, FLMNH, Forestry, Microbiology and Cell Science, and USDA). This project will lead to a new line of research for the PI’s lab, and we designed this pilot project so to that its data can translate into future cross-disciplinary extramural funding (both basic and applied materials sciences) through agencies such as DoD, NIH, NSF and USDA.