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X-ray science taps bug biology to design better materials and reduce pollution
Date:9/18/2013

Bug spray, citronella candles, mosquito netting most people will do anything they can to stay away from insects during the warmer months. But those creepy crawlers we try so hard to avoid may offer substantial solutions to some of life's problems.

Researchers using the cutting-edge X-ray technology at the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Photon Source (APS) were able to take an inside look at several insects, gathering results that go beyond learning about insect physiology and biology. What they found could provide a blueprint for a material used for artificial ligaments, a chemical-free way to protect crops from insects and a new insight on how human muscles function.

Silk-spun tendons?

Most people know the caddisfly as the artificial bug on fly fishing lures. But few know that these real caddiesflies spin an adhesive silk underwater to build nets to capture food and build protective shelter. The chemical structure of the silk allows the substance to adhere to most substances underwater.

"It is really not much stronger than super glue, but try to put super glue in your bathtub without it ever getting a chance to dry," says Jeff Yarger, professor of chemistry, biochemistry and physics at Arizona State University and author of a study in Biomacromolecules that examined caddisfly silk.

Designing a synthetic version of the silk could create an underwater adhesive used for liquid stitches. But even more valuable is its potential use as the first artificial human tendons and ligaments. The fly silk's long fibers make it behave a lot like collagen material used in connective tissues, and its ability to adhere in wet conditions make it viable as an internal implant.

To understand what makes this material both waterproof and collagen-like, Yarger and his team had to examine the biopolymers, tiny molecular structures that serve as the building blocks for the silk, using the BioCARS sector 14 at th
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Contact: Tona Kunz
tkunz@anl.gov
630-252-5560
DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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