The Loh Down On Science

Space Worm

Scientists unveil a super-hard organic material, courtesy of burrowing marine worms.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's. . . spaceworm?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara made a surprising discovery. The pincers and jaws of tiny, burrowing marine worms are INCREDIBLY hard.

SO hard they're considered their own class of super-hard organic material.

The jaws are composed of a unique protein called Neris Virens, or as the researchers call it, "Jaw Protein Number One."

JPNO is rich in the amino acid histidine. Histidine is very common in nature--meaning it's NOT the source of the jaws' amazing strength.

But Jaw Protein Number one is also rich in ZINC, which researchers think is the secret. Zinc causes the histdine to form long, fiber-like chains that bond together, making the jaws he-man strong.

If researchers can replicate this molecular structure in the lab, synthetic versions of the protein could be woven into a lightweight fabric impossible to tear.

Perfect for covering spacecraft, experimental vehicles, even tear-free panty hose. For when astronauts are doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show in space! Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab! If you're free.


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