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Using atomic force microscopy, we present the first molecular-scale comparison of two of the most important silk dopes, native (NSF) and reconstituted (RSF) silkworm fibroin. We found that both systems depended on shear to show self-assembly. Significant differences in the nature of self-assembly between NSF and RSF were shown. In the highest studied concentration of 1000 mg/L, NSF exhibited assembly into 20-30 nm-wide nanofibrils closely resembling the surface structures found in natural silk fibers. RSF, in contrast, showed no self-assembly whatsoever at the same concentration, which suggests that the reconstitution process significantly disrupts silk's inherent self-assembly capability. At lower concentrations, both RSF and NSF formed fibrils under shear, apparently denatured by the substrate. Using image analysis, we quantified the properties of these self-assembled fibrils as a function of concentration and found low-concentration fibrils of NSF to form larger continuous structures than those of RSF, further supporting NSF's superior self-assembly capabilities.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2796 - 2804


Animals, Bombyx, Fibroins, Multiprotein Complexes