Shrimp Shells Inspire New Biodegradable Material | The Institute for Creation Research

Shrimp Shells Inspire New Biodegradable Material

Harvard's Wyss Institute specializes in designing new materials and devices that mimic patterns found in living things. Their latest contribution was inspired by the versatile material found in insect cuticle, which is strong and flexible, yet remarkably lightweight.

The result was "shrilk," a moldable, biodegradable substance derived from shrimp shells and silk that is as strong as some aluminum alloys but only half their weight.

"Shrilk could be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly," according to a Wyss Institute press release.1

The inventors copied the plywood-like arrangement of interconnected layers from the cuticles of arthropods like shrimp, lobsters, or insects. They arranged chitin taken from discarded shrimp shells in thin sheets sandwiched between proteins derived from silk. The cross-layering pattern doubled the overall strength.

Chitin is a sugar-based polymer that provides rigid yet flexible protection and framework for arthropods and a few other creatures.2 Experimenters had long ago defined procedures that use acid to modify and extract chitin from source cuticles like shrimp shells.3 This chitin-derivative has been extruded into an array of forms, then hardened under the influence of certain chemicals.

The shrilk engineers added the layering technique, in effect copying the plan that provided strength to the original shrimp shells, but in new shapes and thicknesses. They did not build machines that can manufacture the chitin or silk proteins produced by arthropods and worms. They merely mimicked the creatures' strategies for layering the materials.

Taken together, at least three different and dependent levels of information are required for both insect cuticles and shrilk. First, genetic blueprints specify the suites of tiny cellular machines that manufacture and excrete chitin and silk. Second, the chitin and silk proteins are arranged according to molecular patterns that are exactly specified for their purposes. Finally, these ingredients are laid out according to an overall sheet-like strategy to become strong, flexible, and biodegradable.

As smart as these Harvard researchers undoubtedly are, they succeeded only in mimicking the third of these three levels of information. All three levels are required for cuticle to function on behalf of the arthropods—clearly implying that not only were they originally formulated at one time, but they needed a superior engineer to design them. And far and away the best candidate for that is the Creator God of the Bible.

References

  1. Inspired by Insect Cuticle, Wyss Researchers Develop Low-Cost Material with Exceptional Strength and Toughness. Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University press release, December 13, 2011, reporting on research published in Fernandez, J. G. and D. E. Ingber. Unexpected Strength and Toughness in Chitosan-Fibroin Laminates Inspired by Insect Cuticle. Advanced Materials. Published online December 13, 2011.
  2. Cuttlefish and squid deposit chitin within a hard mineral apatite matrix to form cuttlebones and pens, respectively. Most fungal cell walls are also comprised of chitin and protein laid out in a stable yet porous support.
  3. Guibal, E. 2005. Heterogeneous catalysis on chitosan-based materials: a review. Progress in Polymer Science. 30: 71-109.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on December 19, 2011.

The Latest
NEWS
Inside June 2021 Acts & Facts
How do the Everglades illustrate Bible-affirming biology? Why do marine sponges inspire engineers? What can we learn about God’s providence from...

NEWS
Two Excuses for Human Evolution Confusion
Public school textbooks assert that apes and humans emerged from an ape-like animal, whereas Genesis 1 says that God created humans and the different animal...

DAYS OF PRAISE DEVOTIONALS
Summer 2021
...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Coral Reef
Christy Hardy and Susan Windsor* You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation with...

ACTS & FACTS
The Legacy and Faith of a Godly Father
Good fathers serve an essential role in the family, and it’s surely fitting that we express our love and gratitude on Father’s Day. After...

APOLOGETICS
Even Seaweed Is Proof of God's Providence
Tidewater-tossed seaweeds display God’s providence.1,2 Hidden in plain view, tidewater seaweeds are spectacular exhibits of Christ’s...

ACTS & FACTS
What It Takes to Make a Cell: A Review of The Stairway to Life
Rare is the science book that can hold even an average reader’s attention. But The Stairway to Life does just that. Coauthored by biochemist Laura...

ACTS & FACTS
Does Radioisotope Dating Prove an Old Earth?
Tim Clarey, Ph.D., and Vernon R. Cupps, Ph.D.* When most people think about radioisotope dating, they think of carbon-14 (C-14), or radiocarbon...

ACTS & FACTS
The Everglades: Two Biology Basics the Bible Got Right
Brian Thomas, Ph.D., and Gary Parker, Ed.D.* Imagine a river 50 miles wide and 100 miles long but only inches deep. Its slow flow is hidden...

ACTS & FACTS
Marine Sponges Inspire
The oceans are alive with God’s diverse and amazing creatures. Scripture tells us “God created great whales, and every living creature that...