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Bioinspired Material Made from Shrimp Shells and Silk

Flickr - D Sharon Pruitt

This article in the Harvard Gazette focuses on “shrilk” — a new material made from discarded shrimp shells and the proteins found in silk. It’s another great example of a trend we call Biomimicry in Design. Here’s one way we’ve described the trend in the past:

Biomimicry in Design: There are numerous areas in which biology-inspired technologies offer hope of breakthrough innovation, including energy, functional materials, sensing, and healthcare. There is optimism for the development of a broad array of new technologies utilizing and/ or based on biological processes.

Read here for a bit more on biomimicry, the science of looking to nature to inform how we design systems, processes, products, etc…

The shrilk article deserves a look too and it has a variety of potential benefits that could make it — and other bioinspired materials like it viable substitutes for plastic in the mid-term future. According to Javier Fernandez and Donald Ingber, who are working working on shrilk:

  • it’s “thin, clear, flexible, and strong as aluminum at half the weight”
  • it’s low-cost, it makes use of waste shrimp shells…
  • it’s biodegradable, and actually the components are often used as fertilizer, so it can actually enrich the soil as it breaks down
  • the ingredients used in shrilk have already been approved by the FDA

Possible applications? The article mentions healthcare applications including:

  • sutures that dissolve in the body
  • protective coverings for wounds and burns
  • it may also find application in regenerative medicine–e.g., it could serve as a scaffold for cell to grow on

They also suggest that if the manufacturing process can be simplified (and presumably made less expensive), then shrilk might be a viable substitute for plastics in general consumer and home applications.

The team’s research appears in a recent issues of Advanced Material, see the abstract quoted below…and keep your eyes open for more bioinspired materials in the future.

A material inspired by natural insect cuticle and composed of chitosan and fibroin is created. The material exhibits the strength of an aluminum alloy at half its weight, while being clear, biocompatible, biodegradable, and micromoldable. The bioinspired laminate exhibits strength and toughness that are ten times greater than the unstructured component blend and twice that of its strongest constituent.

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