A group of international researchers has developed a new self-healing plastic inspired by the teeth of deep-water squids.
As part of the research, engineers from the University of Pennsylvania studied cephalopods' uniquely strong ring teeth, which are able to heal themselves when submerged in water.
After testing teeth samples from various squid species, the team unlocked the genetic code for the proteins that enable the squid teeth to repair when broken. As a result, they were able to artificially engineer a strain of bacteria to produce the proteins, and mixed this with a solvent to turn it into a rubbery plastic.
Once the solvent evaporates the resultant material has a strong and rigid structure, but retains the ability to heal itself when exposed to water.
To test its self-healing strength, the researchers cut a sample in two and then fused it back together with a drop of water at 47°C (113°F) – slightly warmer than the human body. The material retained all of its weight-bearing properties after healing.
With further development, scientists anticipate that the novel material will be used to repair isolated underwater devices such as deep-sea cables, and help to extend the life of biomedical devices.
It's not the first time that ocean creatures have inspired material innovations – see Marine Materials for examples such as alternative nylon from hagfish slime, and prosthetics inspired by squid beaks.
One drive behind the innovation in self-healing materials is the desire to improve longevity in everyday products – see Self-Healing Materials Innovations and Fenix NTM: Self-Healing Smart Material for more.