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Craig Vierra

Craig VierraResearch interest

My research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanics of black widow spider silk and how these properties relate to the fibers high tensile strength, elasticity, and toughness. Because spider silk is five times stronger relative to steel (when equivalent masses are compared), it has attracted the attention of material scientists. Scientists are currently trying to manufacture silk synthetically using expression systems in yeast, bacteria and goats. The "holy grail" of the spider silk community is to produce fibers for industrial applications that mimic natural silk. Synthetic silk could be used for bullet proof vests, medical sutures, fishing lines, ropes and chords, as well as applications for nanotechnology. Furthermore, because silk is biopolymer made of protein, it is non-toxic when degraded and has many environmental advantages over toxic organic materials. Our laboratory has cloned a number of different silk genes that produce proteins assembled into silk threads. We are considered spider gene hunters because we 'fish' for new genes that encode silk proteins. Currently, we are trying to understand how these silk proteins are assembled into the fibers, as well as reveal the molecular mechanisms that govern their silk-gland-restricted patterns of expression. 

Dr. Vierra teaches:  Genetics, Principles of Biology, Immunology, Principles of Immunology, Biochemistry, and Molecular Techniques.  

Peer-Reviewed Publications (2004 to present) 

Pham, T., Chuang, T., Lin, A., Joo, H., Tsai, J., Crawford, T., Zhao, L., Hsia, Y., Williams, C., and Vierra, C. Dragline silk: a fiber assembled with low-molecular weight cysteine-rich proteins. Biomacromolecules. 2014 (in press). 

Lin, A., Chuang, T., Pham, T., Ho, C., Hsia, Y., Blasingame, E., and Vierra, C. Advances in Silk Science and Technology: Book Chapter, Advances in Understanding the Properties of Spider Silk, Woodhead Publishing. 2014 (in press). 

Chuang, T., Lin, A. Lin., and Vierra, C. Spider Silk Biocomposites: From Recombinant Proteins to Fibers, Apple Academic Press. 2014. http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781771880329 

Vasanthavada, K., Xu, X., Tuton-Blasingame, T., Hsia, Y., Sampath, S., Pacheco, R., Freeark, J., Falick, A.M., Tang, S., Fong*, J., Kohler, K., La Mattina-Hawkins and Vierra, C. Spider glue proteins have distinct architectures compared with traditional spidroin family members. J. Biol. Chem. 2012. 287: 35986-35999. 

Gnesa, E., Hsia, Y., Yarger, J.L. Weber, W., Lin-Cereghino, J., Lin-Cereghino, G., Tang, S., Agari*, K., and Vierra, C. Conserved C-terminal domain of spider tubuliform spidroin 1 contributes to extensibility in synthetic fibers. Biomacromolecules. 2012. 13: 304-312. 

Hsia, Y., Gnesa, E., Jeffery, F., Tang, S., and Vierra, C.  Spider Silk Composites and Applications. InTech. 2011.  

Jeffery, F., La Mattina, C., Tuton-Blasingame, T., Hsia, Y., Gnesa, E., Zhao, L., Franz, A., and Vierra, C.  Microdissection of black widow spider silk-producing glands. J Vis Exp. 2011. 47: 1-6. 

Geurts, P., Zhao, L., Hsia, Y., Gnesa, E., Tang, S., Jeffery, F., La Mattina, C., Franz, A., Larkin, L., and Vierra, C.  Synthetic Spider Silk Fibers Spun from Pyriform Spidroin 2, A Glue Silk Protein Discovered in Orb-Weaving Spider Attachment Discs. Biomacromolecules. 2010. 11: 3495-503. 

*Blasingame, E., Tuton-Blasingame, T., Larkin, L., Falick, A.M., Geurts, P., Hu, X., Zhao, L.,*Vaidyanathan, V., *Visperas, A., La Mattina, C., and Vierra, C.  Pyriform spidroin 1, a novel member of the silk gene family that anchors dragline silk fibers in attachment discs of the black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperusJ. Biol Chem. 2009. 284: 29097-29108. 

*La Mattina C., Reza R., Hu X., Falick AM., Vasanthavada K., *McNary S., *Yee R., and Vierra, C.  Spider minor ampullate silk proteins are constituents of prey wrapping silk in the cob weaver Latrodectus hesperus. Biochemistry. 2008. 47: 4692-700. 

Vasanthavada, K., Hu, X., Falick, A.,*La Mattina, C., Moore, A. M. F., Jones, P.J., *Yee, R., Reza, R., Tuton, T., and Vierra, C.  Aciniform Spidroin:  A Constituent of Egg Case Sacs and Wrapping Silk Fibers from the Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus hesperus. J Biol Chem. 2007. 282: 35088-35097.  

Hu, X., Yuan, J., Wang, X., Vasanthavada, K., Falick, A., Jones, P., *La Mattina, C., and Vierra, C.  Analysis of aqueous glue coating proteins on the silk fibers of the cob weaver, Latrodectus hesperus. Biochemistry. 2007. 46: 3294-3303. 

Hu, X., Kohler, K., Falick, A.M., Moore, A.M., Jones, P.R. and Vierra, C. 2006. Spider Egg Case Core Fibers:  Trimeric Complexes Assembled from TuSp1, ECP-1, and ECP-2.  Biochemistry 45: 3506-3516. 

Hu, X., Vasanthavada, K., *Kohler, K., *McNary, S., Moore, M.F., and Vierra, C.  Molecular Mechanisms of Spider Silk (Invited Review).  Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 2006. 63:  1986-1999. 

Hu, X., *Kohler, K., Falick, A.M., Moore, A.M., Jones, P.R., Sparkman, O.D., and Vierra, C.  2005. Egg case protein-1. A new class of silk proteins with fibroin-like properties from the spider Latrodectus hesperus. J Biol Chem 280, 21220-21230. 

Hu, X., Lawrence, B., *Kohler, K., Falick, A.M., Moore, A.M.F., McMullen, E., Jones, P.R. and Vierra, C.A.  2005. Araneoid Egg Case Silk:  A Fibroin with Novel Ensemble Repeat Units from the Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus hesperus. Biochemistry 44: 10020-10027. 

*Kohler, K., *Thayer, W., *Le, T., *Sembhi, A., Vasanthavada, K., Moore, A.M., and Vierra, C.A. (2005). Characterization of a Novel Class II bHLH Transcription Factor from the Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus hesperus, with Silk-Gland Restricted Patterns of Expression. DNA Cell Biol 24, 371-380. 

Lawrence, B.A., Vierra, C.A., and Moore, A.M. (2004). Molecular and mechanical properties of major ampullate silk of the black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus. Biomacromolecules 5, 689-695. 

Current and Past External Funding 

2011-2015
Research at Undergraduate Institutions - National Science Foundation (RUI-NSF): DMR
Project Title: The molecular and mechanical behavior of glue silks from the black widow spider;
Amount: $320,000 

2010-2015
Research at Undergraduate Institutions - National Science Foundation (RUI-NSF): MCB
Project Title: Molecular Characterization of Black Widow Spider Silks;
Amount: $512,075 

2006-2010
Research at Undergraduate Institutions - National Science Foundation (RUI-NSF): MCB
Project Title:  Molecular Characterization of Tubuliform Silk;
Amount: $376,920 

2003-2007
Academic Research Enhancement Award - National Institute of Health (AREA-NIH)
Project Title:  Molecular Characterization of ABF-1 in B cells;
Amount: $122,024           

2003-2005
Research at Undergraduate Institutions - National Science Foundation (RUI-NSF): DBI - Multiple User Instrumentation Grant.  
Project Title: The Acquisition of DNA Microarray Technology for Biological Research;
Amount: $66,725 

2001-2005
Collaborative Research at Undergraduate Institution - National Science Foundation (CRUI-NSF): DBI
Project Title: Molecular Mechanisms of Mechanical Diversity in Spider Silks;
Amount:  $849,972 

2001-2004
Research at Undergraduate Institutions - National Science Foundation (RUI-NSF): MCB
Project Title:  Functional Characterization of a Nematode Gene Related to the Class II bHLH Protein, ABF-1;
Amount: $139,429 

2000-2003
Academic Research Enhancement Award - National Institute of Health (AREA-NIH)
Project Title:  Structural and Functional Analysis of ABF-1 Promoter;
Amount:  $87,512 

1998-2001
Research at Undergraduate Institutions - National Science Foundation (RUI-NSF): MCB
Project Title:  The isolation and characterization of basic helix-loop-helix proteins associated with E2A in plasma cells;
Amount:  $128,630 

Craig Vierra, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Biological Sciences
 Email - Phone: 209.946.3024
Office: Biology Room 213

University of the Pacific
3601 Pacific Avenue
Stockton, CA 95211

Area:  Molecular biology and genetics, gene expression and immunology 

 Curriculum Vitae