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Octopus tentacles as surgical tools; spider web imaging; antibiotic wasp venom

SNL Image

Scientists are researching octopus tentacles to possibly develop new surgical tools.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Researchers at the University of Illinois have turned to an unlikely source to create material used in surgery and wound healing: the suckers that line the tentacles of an octopus.

The group of scientists took inspiration from the octopus's ability to pick up various materials using small pressure changes in the suction cups on its tentacles. The same method can be used to create sheets of cells or electronics that can aid in wound healing, regenerative medicine and biosensing.

"A crucial aspect of tissue transplantation surgery, such as corneal tissue transplantation surgery, is surgical gripping and safe transplantation of soft tissues," lead researcher Hyunjoon Kong said. "However, handling these living substances remains a grand challenge because they are fragile and easily crumple when picking them up from the culture media."

The team created a material made of a temperature-sensitive substance called a hydrogel that, when heated, would expand to form suction with other materials, allowing it to pick them up without causing harm the way normal sticky surfaces might. The scientists are looking to make the hydrogel even more sensitive to temperature changes to further control the suction.

Wasp venom for antibiotic use

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a bacteria-killing substance from the venom in wasps that could potentially serve in the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections.

Using toxic proteins found in the Korean yellow-jacket wasp, the researchers were able to separate molecules and alter them so that the venom can kill bacteria without harming human cells.

"New antibiotics are urgently needed to treat the ever-increasing number of drug-resistant infections and venoms are an untapped source of novel potential drugs," lead scientist César de la Fuente said. "We think that venom-derived molecules such as the ones we engineered in this study are going to be a valuable source of new antibiotics."

The venom from the wasps is highly toxic with an ability to destroy red blood cells and trigger allergic reactions. However, in experiments on mice, the altered venom was able to keep 80% of the animals alive after exposure to normally fatal strains of E. coli and Staphylococcus bacteria.

The antibiotics market is forecast to reach more than $50 billion by 2025, according to an Oct. 28 report from Allied Market Research.

SNL Image

The pattern of spider webs could help inform new imaging technology.
Source: Luc Viatour via Wikimedia Commons

"Development of antibiotic resistance and rise in drug approval costs hinder the market growth," the report said. "Conversely, discovery of advanced prospect molecules and innovative combination therapies for the treatment of antibiotic-resistant microbial infections would create opportunities for the market in future."

Walking into spider webs

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Purdue University have looked at the structure of spider webs to develop electronics that can be used to enhance medical imaging technology.

The repeating patterns of the spider web allowed the researchers to adapt two-dimensional shapes to a three-dimensional architecture, a technology that could help in biomedical imaging.

"We employed the unique fractal design of a spider web for the development of deformable and reliable electronics that can seamlessly interface with any 3-D curvilinear surface," lead author Chi Hwan Lee said.

The team was able to create a dome structure using the spider web shape that could detect light in many directions at once.

Like a spider web, the design was able to resist damage under high levels of stress, which is useful to retain structural integrity for accurate imaging.