The Loh Down On Science

Pointy Progress

Being in stitches is no laughing matter!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Anyone who's had stitches knows they're painful going in and too easy to pull out. Ouch! Is there a better solution?

Enter the North American porcupine, with its 30,000 quills. In a recent analysis, scientists found that the quills have quills of their own: microscopic, backward-facing barbs. Like serrated knives, the barbs concentrate force, making cutting easier. But like fishhooks, they keep quills from coming out as easily as they went in. In tests, barbed quills took fifty percent less force to penetrate skin than smooth quills, but required four times more force to remove. Euh!

Being sharp themselves, the team got inventive. They devised both a needle that's less painful to insert, and an artificial adhesive pad that's thirty times harder to remove. Such adhesives could eventually replace traditional sutures and surgical glue.

And just think how helpful those will be for treating your next porcupine attack. Oh, the irony!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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