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Craig Vierra

Professor and Chair, Biological Sciences


Phone: 209.946.3024
Email: cvierra@pacific.edu

Office Hours

Office: Biology Room 213


PhD, Biochemistry, University of California at Riverside

BS, Biochemistry, University of California at Davis

Curriculum Vitae 

Teaching Philosophy

My primary goal in mentoring individuals is to teach students how to integrate educational content from the classroom and apply this knowledge to everyday practical applications. Specifically, principles and concepts taught in lecture are presented in such a manner to make students search for solutions that benefit and advance society. In the field of biology, there is much to learn from nature.  Much effort is infused to make students aware of the intrinsic beauty of nature and the practical laws that govern biological systems. Through teaching students concepts in genetics, biochemistry, immunology and molecular biology, my teaching philosophy is to develop critical thinking and analytical skills that help students evaluate data from scientific research. In this manner, students are taught to question everything that they encounter in the world and apply their acquired intellectual toolkit to make informed decisions about science. I enjoy encouraging collaborative projects in lecture and undergraduate research courses as well as creating a positive environment to enable students to excel. I firmly believe that hands-on experiential learning is one of the most powerful methods to enhance student learning, curiosity, and creativity. 

Scholarly Interest

My research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanics of black widow spider silk and how these properties relate to the fiber's 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. 


Principles of Biology
Principles of Immunology
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 hesperus. J. 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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