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WATCH: Incredible Caddisfly’s Silk Can Be the Next Super Adhesive

Aug 10, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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One tiny insect could hold the promise for repairing human tissues and setting bones.

Ever heard of caddisflies? This is a type of stream-dwelling, fish-baiting insects that live in creeks all across the U.S. So how can this tiny insect change the way we patch up things inside our body?

A caddisfly in its larval stage constructs a tiny tube-like house for itself called a case, and is entirely underwater, using pebbles and its tape as the mortar. The tape, which is a specialized silk, comes from a pair of glands under its chin. The case protects the caddisfly's soft lower body, but because of the qualities of the silk, the case can hold up underwater.

As soon as the caddisflies hatch, the case-building behavior begins.

The caddisfly meticulously tapes more and more stones together until the case begins to take shape after carefully choosing a starter pebble for its case called a "ballast stone."

According to a press release sent exclusively to Nature World News , caddisfly glue bonds more readily to bio-fouled surfaces, those already coated with decaying matter and bacteria from the stream, unlike our glues, which generally work better on clean, dry surfaces (like skin).

And this is where caddisfly\'s unique adhesive system comes in.

"Typically we can make an adhesive bond that is stable underwater," said Nicholas Ashton, a bioengineering researcher at the University of Utah. "But we can't form the bond underwater."

This adhesive system is distinct from that of other well-studied underwater glue-makers, such as mussels and sea cucumbers, and may offer a unique path forward for researchers trying to engineer an underwater fixative, KQED Science reports.

Caddisfly silk's ribbon component is resilient. The fiber can stretch to twice to its original length and still recover, though caddisfly silk returns to its shape slowly. The tape fibers can absorb the forces that would cause another material to snap back violently.

One day, a similar compound might be used inside the body to mend soft tissues, like organs and tendons, and even repair hard ones, like teeth and bone.

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