Silk Gene Expression Associated with Loss of Web-Building in Tetragnatha Spiders

Summer 2017

Cory Berger : Integrative Biology

Donor: Banatao Fund
Mentor: Rosemary Gillespie

Discovering how traits evolve or are lost is key to understanding the processes underlying biodiversity. Web-building is an ancestral trait in orb-weaving spiders, but several taxa have secondarily lost the ability to build webs. Among the long-jawed spiders of the genus Tetragnatha, there are species that exhibit a range of web-building phenotypes, including the total loss of web-building and the construction of reduced webs. My research will use Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) to investigate the silk organs of these species, which will provide a clear picture of the morphologies associated with the varying levels of web-building. Then, I will use RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) techniques to analyze the complement of expressed silk genes, or transcriptomes, in each species. This comparison across closely related species will provide a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying the evolution and loss of web-building.

I would like to thank the Banatao fund for their generous financial support, with which I was able to have the challenging and rewarding experience of conducting my own research. In practical terms, I have no doubt that my SURF project will be extremely valuable as I prepare to move on to grad school, where I hope to pursue a career in biological research. The skills that I've learned, both specifically in terms of genomic work, and in terms of conducting research in general, will prepare me for what is to come and strengthen my application. However, I also want to express my appreciation for the experience itself, where I was able to have fun and apply myself doing something I love. It's one thing to take classes, but it's entirely another to be able to learn independently in this manner--with, of course plenty of support along the way. Once again, thank you.