Porcupine Quills’ Prickly Power | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 51 | p. 31 | Concentrates
Issue Date: December 17, 2012

Porcupine Quills’ Prickly Power

Microscale barbs help quills penetrate tissue more easily than smooth spines
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Biological SCENE, Materials SCENE
Keywords: porcupine, quill, biological adhesive
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A scanning electron micrograph of a North American porcupine quill showing tiny barbs.
Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey M. Karp
A scanning electron micrograph of a North American porcupine quill.
 
A scanning electron micrograph of a North American porcupine quill showing tiny barbs.
Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey M. Karp
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Credit: Shutterstock
North American porcupine.
 
Credit: Shutterstock

Anyone who has ever tangled with a North American porcupine knows there are some painfully sticky deterrents from such encounters. The critter’s quills feature tiny microbarbs (shown) that make them tough to remove. Now, a team led by Robert S. Langer of MIT and Jeffrey M. Karp of Brigham & Women’s Hospital has discovered that the barbed structure also helps the quills enter the skin more easily than barbless versions (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1216441109). “The barbed quill requires less work of penetration while minimizing tissue damage,” the researchers note. The barbs, they show, localize penetration forces to pass through tissue in the same way a serrated knife slices a tomato more readily than a smooth one. The team believes the discovery could lead to better medical devices, such as needles and trocars, as well as biological adhesives. To demonstrate the latter, they prepared an array of molded polyurethane quills and found its adhesion to tissue was 30 times greater than an array of barbless spikes.

 
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ISSN 0009-2347
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