Caddisfly larvae live underwater and build protective cases from solid materials such as rocks and sticks. The materials are glued together with silk. This activity occurs underwater. Therefore, the glue must be waterproof. The silk is strong enough to hold together even heavy materials such as stones and jewels.
Biomedical engineers want adhesives that work in an aqueous environment, have sufficient strength to hold together tissues such as bone and are degradable into biologically inactive units. Scientists* have studied caddisfly silk and determined that the phosphoserines present in the silk protein are responsible for many desirable adhesive properties. This knowledge has led chemists to successfully create polymers containing 2 to 5% phosphoserine that mimic the properties of caddisfly silk. The biomimetics have strength and adhesive properties that could be useful in medical applications. With addition modification, the biomimetic caddisfly silk polymers could have uses in repairing broken bones and other orthopedic uses, and as scaffolds for spinal repair.
Our ability to synthesize new chemicals increased in sophisticated. Insect biomaterials are increasingly important as model compounds that suggest how to produce biomimetics with desired properties.
*Vrushali Bhagat, Emily O’Brien, Jinjun Zhou, and Matthew L. Becker. Caddisfly Inspired Phosphorylated Poly(ester urea)-Based Degradable Bone Adhesives. Biomacromolecules. July 12, 2016