Silk Production By B Mori

B. mori larvae have a unique metabolic system for producing a large amount of cocoon protein and efficiently using dietary nitrogen. Both male and female silkworms digest and absorb about two-thirds of the nitrogen in the mulberry leaves they consume, and high percentages of the digested and absorbed nitrogen (66% in females and 70% in males) are utilized in the production of cocoon protein.

During the last larval stage (fifth instar), the silk gland produces the silk for the cocoon from a pair of curved glands found on the ventral side of the digestive tube. The weight of this organ accounts for about 25% of the weight of larvae in the late fifth instar.

The silk gland can produce massive amounts of fibroin and sericin, the proteins constituting silk. Sericin surrounds a fibroin core. The ratio of fibroin to sericin is approximately

3:1. Fibroin is rich in four amino acids: glycine (Gly), alanine (Ala), serine (Ser), and tyrosine (Tyr). The fibroin molecule contains repeats of a section composed of a regular arrangement of three amino acids, Gly, Ala, and Ser. Major amino acids constituting sericin are Ser, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, and glycine. A characteristic of sericin is that, unlike fibroin, it is soluble in hot water. Therefore, when cocoon threads are reeled, most of the sericin is removed, and the remaining raw silk is composed of fibroin alone.

Studies on B. mori greatly contributed to early discoveries in insect endocrinology and to the isolation and analysis of insect peptide hormones in 1980s and 1990s. The large size of these insects made experimental morphological studies easier, and because of the importance of this species to the sericultural industry, large quantities of materials for hormone extracts were made available.

In silkworms, larval ecdysis is induced by a molting hormone secreted by the prothoracic gland, which is located inside the first thoracic spiracle. The role of the prothoracic gland in ecdysis was discovered in 1944, and the molting hormone, ecdysone, was structurally determined in 1954 in studies that used large amounts of silkworm pupae as material. Ecdysone was the first hormone to be isolated from an insect species. In addition, the function of the corpora allata in Lepidoptera was also first discovered in silkworms in 1942. The corpora allata, which are small organs located adjacent to the brain, secrete juvenile hormone, which controls silkworm development together with molting hormone. Among the peptide hormones, the molecular structures of prothoracicotropic hormone (initially named "brain hormone"), which controls the secretion of molting hormone, and the diapause hormone, which induces silkworm egg diapause, were elucidated by using silkworms.

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