Asian Scientist (Sep. 12, 2013) – A wide range of biologically inspired materials may now be possible by combining protein studies, materials science and RNA sequencing, according to an international team led by scientists in Singapore.
In their study, published in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers were able to combine these approaches to rapidly characterize natural materials such as squid sucker ring teeth and translate their findings into a new biomaterial that is harder, more rigid and more wear-resistant than conventional plastics.
This means that scientists can now discover and develop new and better biomaterials within months instead of years.
The squid sucker ring teeth is just one of three biomaterials that the scientists have studied in the past year. The other two discoveries include sticky underwater glue which is derived from mussels and an extremely elastic material from sea snails’ egg capsules.
These mollusk-derived tissues, including self-healing elastomeric membranes and protein-based polymers, were chosen because they exhibit a wide range of high-performance properties.
The analysis of squid sucker ring teeth revealed nanotubular structures and strong polymers assembled from a novel protein that can be reprocessed into a variety of shapes.
By mimicking these structures, the scientists have developed a biomaterial that can be made into biocompatible films for food and drug packaging.
“This new biomaterial made from squid’s sucker ring teeth – which are a set of razor sharp teeth found on squid tentacles used to latch on to prey – can retain its property when wet. It could be a new solution to wear-resistant human implants that are exposed to water on a continuous basis,” said Dr Ali Miserez, senior author of the study.
“By comparison, silk – which is similar to the material we discovered in terms of molecular structure – is exceptionally strong when dry, but becomes weak when exposed to water.”
Similarly, the researchers found that the egg capsule membranes from the sea snail, which have unusual shock-absorbing qualities, contain proteins with coiled structures and crosslinking that absorbs energy.
This information can be applied to biomimetic engineering of robust yet permeable protein-based membranes with precisely tailored mechanical properties.
These new biomaterials are superior, if not comparable with those produced from petroleum-based polymers, yet are made using eco-friendly processes without using harsh chemicals.
“Both biological and material sciences have developed very sophisticated techniques for characterization in their respective fields and our work demonstrates that by integrating these technologies, discoveries can be accelerated,” said Dr Shawn Hoon, a co-lead author of the study.
“What we are ultimately trying to achieve is to understand the ‘building principles’ of natural materials. We think our success will be very instructive for material scientists looking to biological materials for inspiration.”