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Fish Sperm Make Excellent Flame Retardants

Mar 25, 2015 04:46 PM EDT

(Photo : Flickr: Jacob Botter)

It turns out that fish sperm makes excellent flame retardants, according to new research.

Researchers at the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy are using DNA extracted from herring sperm cells to develop new types of flame retardant materials. In a series of experiments, the researchers coated cloth in the DNA from herring sperm cells and found it converts to a ceramic-like material which, when exposed to extreme heat, prevents the flames from catching alight.

Currently, materials such as fabrics, furniture and plastics that are coated in chemical flame retardants have been shown to be linked to health problems like infertility, cancers and birth defects. This way, something as natural as DNA could lead to a more natural, eco-friendly way of protecting materials from fire.

"We have explored its flame retardant activity by applying as a surface coating on cotton fabrics and observed that on exposure to heat, the DNA was able to form a foamed char on the surface of the fabric," the researchers wrote in the journal Polymer. "DNA has proven to be an efficient renewable, natural flame suppressant and retardant, due to its intrinsic intumescent features."

To better understand the fish DNA's ability to resist catching fire, the Polytechnic team exposed sperm cells to temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit). Due to its unique helical structure, the heat caused the DNA's properties change in a way that it caused it to form fire-resistant foam - a process referred to as the "itnumescent effect."

The researchers found that layers of DNA applied to a cotton fabric could reduce the amount of heat released by fire by 40 percent, as well as limit the availability of oxygen to the flames.

"DNA has a peculiar chemical structure that is intumescent-like," Professor Giulio Malucelli, a materials scientist who led the study, told Mail Online. "This means that it possesses some flame retardant features that could be exploited for conferring fire resistance to fabrics and also to low melting plastics."

What's more, the DNA appeared to become intumescent at relatively low temperatures compared to other fire retardant materials.

This unique research can lead to better and safer methods of making various materials resistant to fire and flames. It seems that nature still has ways to outperform even our most innovative technologies.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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