a world first, CSIRO scientists have copied nature
to produce a near-perfect rubber from resilin, the
elastic protein which gives fleas their remarkable
jumping ability and helps insects fly.
This important research breakthrough is reported
in the latest edition of the respected international
journal Nature (13 October 2005).
has a near-perfect capacity to recover, or 'bounce
back', after stress is applied and extraordinary
durability, which may have applications in industry
and medicine. It could be used as a high-efficiency
rubber in industry, spinal disc implants, heart and
blood valve substitutes, and perhaps even to add
some extra spring to the heels of running shoes.
“Resilin has evolved over hundreds of millions of
years in insects into the most efficient elastic
protein known,” says project leader, CSIRO Livestock
Industries principal scientist, Dr Chris Elvin.
knows fleas jump like crazy and now, for the first
time, we have replicated the material that enables
them to do that.”
If humans could jump like fleas, we would be able
to leap 100-story buildings. The durability and elasticity
of resilin helps insects fly, enabling bees to flap
their wings in almost frictionless motion 500 million
times in a lifecycle.
“The resilin gene is turned off in adult insects,
so there is no way of renewing their supplies,” Dr
you consider the number of contraction and extension
cycles that resilin must accomplish during the course
of an insect's life, the fatigue lifetime of the
material is extraordinary.
disc implants need to last for 100 million cycles,
which is roughly how many times we move our back
in a lifetime, and we know resilin can last that
Dr Elvin's multi-disciplinary research team achieved
a number of firsts with the research, which was funded
by a CSIRO Emerging Sciences Area grant.
They were the first to clone a portion of the 'resilin
gene' in the fruitfly and express it in bacteria
as a soluble protein. The team had, for the first
time in the world, produced resilin protein in purified
form. The next challenge was to develop a technique
to turn the soluble material into a solid form.
“Using a process we have patented, we developed
a resilin rubber material which structural testing
showed had a near-perfect resilience,” Dr Elvin says.
In another first the team developed a method of
measuring resilience at the nano-scale by making
use of the unique capabilities of an atomic force
material displayed a 97 per cent recovery after
stress was applied, far exceeding that of synthetic
polybutadiene 'superball' high-resilience rubber
(80 per cent) and elastin – an elastic protein
in humans which accounts for the elasticity of
structures such the skin, blood vessels, heart,
lungs, intestines, tendons, and ligaments (90 per
Led by CSIRO Livestock Industries, the resilin project
involved specialised input from CSIRO's Divisions
of Textile Fibre Technology, Manufacturing and Infrastructure
Technology and Molecular and Health Technologies.
Other key collaborators include the University of
Queensland, Monash University and the Australian