The marine animal Crassicorophium bonellii looks like a shrimp, but it acts more like a spider. The creature uses its legs to spin silk that's both incredibly hard and super sticky... and could be of great medical use to humans.
Researchers from the Oxford Silk Group have studied the creature's silk-making, which it uses to construct the muddy tubes in which it lives. The silk shares some adhesive properties with the stuff barnacles use to stick to things. The fact that it can cement underwater already gives it some pretty impressive - and potentially useful - properties, but that isn't the end of it. The silk has the same strength and flexibility seen in spider silk, which is as strong as steel.
The researchers describe just how the silk is created:
The tube-building corophioid amphipod Crassicorophium bonellii produces from its legs fibrous, adhesive underwater threads that combine barnacle cement biology with aspects of spider silk thread extrusion spinning. We characterised the filamentous silk as a mixture of mucopolysaccharides and protein deriving from glands representing two distinct types. The filamentous secretion product exits the gland through a pore near the tip of the secretory leg after having moved through a duct, which subdivides into several small ductules all terminating in a spindle-shaped chamber. This chamber communicates with the exterior and may be considered the silk reservoir and processing/mixing space, in which the silk is mechanically and potentially chemically altered and becomes fibrous.
The shrimp's silk could come in very handy in the field of biomedicine, as the saltwater conditions in which the silk developed are surprisingly similar to those of the human body. The fact that the material can stick to anything and yet still remain simultaneously strong and flexible makes it potentially the perfect material for any number of medical applications — though of course, that's still a ways off.