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Spiders have been a nightmare for many people for centuries. As they say, a spider in sight is not a problem, the problem begins when it disappears. There are many species of spiders and they come in all different sizes from 0.37mm to 30cm, cute to furious, poisonous and non-poisonous, urban and wild, etc. One such species is Darwin’s bark spider. Although only about a thumbnail in size, this spider has a special strategy to catch prey. It can create a web of up to 2m within a couple of hours which can hang on a single 25m long silk thread across the pond. The silk that it produces is the strongest naturally occurring material on earth, up to 10 times stronger than Kevlar! Scientists are baffled by how a small creature can spit out such long and strong silk threads.
Have you ever hung from a rope? Those who have, know that as the rope extends, it begins to twist. But spiders don’t twist and curl when they hang down starring at you from the ceiling. Dabiao Liu of Huazhong University of Science and Technology studied the spider web and found that the silk slightly deforms when twisted absorbing about 75% of the potential energy, hence damping the oscillations.
A team of architects and chemists from the University of Cambridge has designed super-stretchy and strong fibers that are almost entirely composed of water and could be used to make textiles, sensors, and other materials. The fibers, which resemble miniature bungee cords as they can absorb large amounts of energy, are sustainable, non-toxic, and can be made at room temperature. Dr. Darshil Shah from the team said that “we have yet to fully recreate the elegance with which spiders spin silk, and this method of making fibers could be a sustainable alternative to current manufacturing methods,” said Dr. Shah.
Researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden have managed to synthesize lung surfactant, a drug used in the care of preterm babies, by mimicking the production of spider silk. Animal studies reveal it to be just as effective as the biological drugs currently in clinical use. Surfactant revolutionized the care of preterm babies by reducing the surface tension in their pulmonary alveoli and allowing them to be inflated at the moment of birth. “The manufacturing process is based on the method spiders use to keep their extremely easily aggregated proteins soluble for silk-spinning,” explained Professor Janne Johansson. “Since this production method is much simpler and cheaper, it might one day be possible to use our synthetic lung surfactant to treat more lung diseases than just preterm babies. The method will also hopefully enable the production of other biological drugs”, he said.
Thank you, Dabiao Liu, Dr. Darshil Shah, Janne Johansson, for your research and contribution to humanity.
Understanding nature and its meticulous efforts in the form of evolution of different species that thrive in different environments has given us millions of years of research and development, as we can call it. Hence, it only makes sense to take advantage of such an invaluable resource to design better products and solve many of our problems. Biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature to solve complex human problems. The terms "biomimetics" and "biomimicry" derive from Ancient Greek: βίος (bios), life, and μίμησις (mīmēsis), imitation, from μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), to imitate, from μῖμος (mimos), actor. The field of Biomimicry, as it is today, is largely the contribution of Janine Benyus, a biologist, author, and an innovation consultant.
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