Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have announced that proteins found in the suction cups of squid tentacles may be used for the creation of strong, malleable materials ideal for reconstructive surgery.
In a previous study scientists identified one of the new proteins in squid suction cups and established its strong yet flexible properties. In this new study, reported in American Chemical Society’s ACS Nano Journal, researchers explained that they have discovered 37 more of these proteins, from two species of squid and cuttlefish. Each suction cup on a squid’s tentacle contains a number of tiny ‘teeth’ which the squid use for catching and eating their prey. It is in these teeth that the new proteins have been discovered and technology based on them may one day help create artificial ligaments, scaffolds to grow bone and even eco-friendly packaging. Currently only synthetic or transplanted biological materials are used in reconstructive surgeries for, among others, patients who have lost face or body parts due to cancer or serious burns. However, these proteins could be the key to a strong but flexible new material for such procedures.
This is certainly not the first time that squid have been useful for something other than calamari. Study of squid movement was the basis of a soft-bodied robot, while their muscles may be the key to creating futuristic colour-change clothing. In the medical sphere, their tissues have offered insight into treating human eye disease and their beaks can be used for implant surgery.
What sets these sucker ‘teeth’ apart is that they are made entirely of proteins, while most other hard tissues, such as mollusc shells or our bones, must be combined with other minerals or substances to function. Rather like spider silk, the proteins, known as ‘suckerin’ proteins, are formed in ‘ß-sheets’, which makes them extremely strong. These structures can also be moulded into various shapes, making them the perfect combination to form the basis of biomaterials for reconstructive surgery. Scientists have been investigating the uses of spider silk for years, but these new materials could be easier and more environmentally sound to produce.
Researchers have reported that there may be many more exciting uses for the newly-discovered proteins, as work on them is only just beginning.