Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On the wing

This picture will no doubt give my sister a nightmare. This is the husk left by a cicada after it molts, and we used to find these on the carport - and throw them at each other - when we were growing up in Illinois. I don't have any fondness for these bug-eyed creatures either, especially after surviving their emergence from the ground en masse twice when I lived in Washington, D.C. But they do have something to offer, and I'm not talking about protein… Biophysicists have just discovered that the clanger cicada (Psaltoda claripennis) has a texture on its veined wings that kills bacteria solely through its physical structure. It is one of the first natural substances found that shred microbes by stretching them so thin that they rupture, a discovery that has many potential applications. “This would provide a passive bacteria-killing surface [that] does not require active agents like detergents, which are often environmentally harmful," says lead author of the study, Elena Ivanova of Australia's Swinburne University of Technology. It's always a bit gratifying when something good comes of something (in my opinion) so ugly.


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