Science News

Catch The Buzz About Nature's Elastic Band

Sat, 22nd Oct 2005

Part of the show Social Insects, Biting Bugs and a Potted History of Honey

In a move that could signal an end to bad backs, writing in last week's edition of Nature a team of Australian scientists led by the Queensland researcher Dr Chris Elvin have successfully copied the insect gene that enables the wings of a bee to flap at least 500 million times during its life, and has catapulted "frog hoppers" into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's greatest jumpers. Resilin is essentially Nature's elastic band. It's extremely tough, it can store energy like a spring, which is how blood-hungry fleas bounce from one tasty host to another, and it can expand and contract very fast withour wearing out. Until now it has been impossible to produce this substance artificially, but Chris Elvin's team have successfully persuaded bacteria to do it for them. They suggest that the protein's resilience means that it might make a perfect replacement for spinal discs. And since we move out backs only about 100 million times over the average human lifespan, if it lasts as long as it does in a bumblebee, we should be laughing, rather than grimacing!

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