Scientists finally copy Creator’s super-rubber
27 April 2006
The stretchiest rubber in the world, resilin, comes from insects. It is responsible for the super-jumping abilities of fleas and the deafening chirps of cicadas, and also has an important role in insect wings. In fact, it was first found in dragonfly wings about 40 years ago. Resilin must also be stable enough to last an insect’s lifetime, because the adult insect does not manufacure it.
A team led by Chris Elvin, a molecular biologist at CSIRO Livestock Industries in Queensland, Australia, has finally reproduced this super-rubber. But they had to copy the Manufacturer’s instructions. The resilin gene had been found within the fruit fly genome in 2001, so they copied the gene into common gut bacteria, Escherichia coli. Then the bacteria were made to follow the instructions to produce the raw protein.
But this is not enough—the protein chains must be linked together in very specific ways to produce the super-rubber. So insects require not only the instructions for the protein, but also instructions for processing the proteins. Instead, Elvin’s team used bright light with a ruthenium metal catalyst to make the proteins link in the right way.
This artificial resilin was as good as the
natural insect rubber. It was ‘almost perfectly
elastic’, with only 3% of the energy stored in stretching
lost as heat when the resilin contracts. Even polybutadiene
‘superballs’ lose 20% of their energy with each
bounce. And resilin can ‘stretch to three times its
unstressed length without breaking’.
Nature 437, pp. 999–1002, 13 October 2005.
As the second article on this super-rubber put it, “The living world puts human engineering to shame.” Hardly surprising, since its Engineer’s ways are as high above ours as Heaven is above Earth (Isaiah 55:8–9).