Cheryl Hayashi is a biologist working at the interface of phylogenetics, biomechanics, and materials science to study the architecture, structure, and function of spider silks. Some species of spiders produce as many as six different silks, each with specific mechanical properties and functions; the protein structure of these silks consists of highly repetitive amino acid groups (with variations in these groups accounting for differences in tensile strength and elasticity of the various thread types). Hayashi investigates the molecular genetic basis within the genome and in the mRNA transcript that gives rise to the repetitive amino acid structure. Her analyses across numerous orb-weaving spider species call into question long-held beliefs about the independent evolution of this behavior. In addition, her examination of sequence differences between individuals of the same species suggests a “modular” mechanism for genetic variation and selection. More recently, Hayashi has expanded her studies to include silks from other arthropods (such as caterpillars), non-silk proteins such as glues, and comparative analysis of spider silk biomechanics. Her findings, already advancing our understanding of spider phylogenetics, also have the potential to influence the development of biomimetic material for a variety of applications, from biodegradable fishing lines to medical sutures to protective armor cloth. With a deep understanding of spider biology, Hayashi is contributing to a fundamental rethinking of arachnid phylogeny and revealing key information about spider silks to support the development of new synthetic materials.
Cheryl Hayashi received a B.S. (1988) from Yale University and a Ph.D. (1996) through a joint program with Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History. She was a postdoctoral fellow (1996-2001) at the University of Wyoming and, in 2001, became an assistant professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, where she is now an associate professor. Her scientific articles have appeared in such journals as Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, and the Journal of Experimental Biology.