Ten Materials Inspired By Mother Nature (VIDEO)

The natural world is filled with strange, fascinating structures that are stronger, more flexible and more resilient than anything humans can make.

7. Squid beaks and teeth for drug delivery

Photo: Erwin Soo/Flickr/CC
Photo: Erwin Soo/Flickr/CC

Cephalopods—squids, octopus, cuttlefish—are amongst the most evolved marine organisms. Although these creatures do not produce a hard mineralized internal skeleton like in mammals, or an exoskeleton like in crustaceans, they have a very hard beak which is, notably, completely un-calcified. Because conventional wisdom implies that hard tissues should be calcified, cephalopods create a new paradigm for biomaterials.

Squid and cuttlefish also possess hundreds of teeth-like structures lining their arms and tentacles which help them firmly hold onto prey. These structures, called sucker ring teeth (SRT), are unusually only made of proteins.

My own research group at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has studied the biomechanical properties of SRT structures and found that the proteins are similar to silk at the molecular level. So far, we have successfully produced recombinant SRT proteins and developed multi-functional hydrogels and stimuli-responsive drug delivery agents based on these proteins.

Ali Miserez is an assistant professor at the School of Materials Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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