Dosidicus gigas

Dosidicus gigas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The beak of a giant humboldt squid

Squid beaks could hold the key to stronger joint implants in humans.

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Imagine you have been in a terrible accident. Your hip has been badly damaged and you can hardly walk. After a series of hospital visits and tests, the joint, or orthopedic, surgeon tells you that you need a full hip replacement. He excitedly informs you that a new hip implant has been developed that is much stronger and sturdier than present hip implants. However, your mouth drops and you nearly fall out of your chair when he tells you what the hip implant is made of. That’s right…..you heard him correctly….you are going to have a squid beak implanted in you.

According to an article in Nature Chemical Biology, the material that is found in a squid beak could make future joint implants sturdier and stronger. At the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Assistant Professor Ali Miserez Ph.D. and his team of researchers have studied the structure of squid beaks in depth.

Most hip or knee implants are made of plastic lining or polyethelene. These materials need to be replaced every fifteen years as the implant material wears down over time and can no longer protect the soft tissue within the vicinity of the implant. The beak of the jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas) may pave the way for an implant that lasts longer, smoother and has greater mobility. Studying the structure of the jumbo squid’s beak has been the main focus of Ali Meserez and his team. Now that’s pretty hip! (See what I did there?) 🙂

It has been observed that a squid’s beak is soft near the mouth but gradually hardens as it travels towards the tip. The level of increasing stiffness allows the squid to bite through pray as it hunts. Ali Miserez has studied in depth the molecular structure of squid beaks in order to see what accounts for the beak’s gradual hardening. Their eureka moment? It was discovered that fibers of chitin were held in an interlocking pattern with a filling of protein liquid solution. The liquid protein, as it travels toward the tip of the beak, changes composition and hardens. The chitin fibers that are found in a squid’s beak are similar to the material that is found in crustaceans.

The ability to develop a material that has this gradual change in stiffness would be revolutionary in the orthopedic world. Patients would be able to receive joint implants that would last longer and feel more comfortable. The team from Nanyang Technological University believe that chitin could be harvested from seafood waste, the proteins extracted and then developed in a laboratory setting in order to create the implants.

The jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas)

The jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas)

Jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas) are also known as Humboldt squid and are members of the flying squid family. Yes….you heard me….flying squid. Well, technically they can’t fly in the air like birds. However, like dolphins, they can jump or soar out of the water a few feet in order to avoid larger animals that would turn them into a dinner entree. These cephalopods can grow up to 2 meters in length and can weigh up to 100 pounds! You would not want to stand in this squid’s way due to the fact that they have tentacles an average of 100 to 200 hooked suckers on each arm.

Humboldt squid are super aggressive, nocturnal predators and love to hunt other cephalopods, mackerel, sardines and shrimp. With lightning-quick reflexes, they can ensnare prey within their hooked arms, pull the animal close and bit down with their knife-like beaks. The Humboldt portion of their name comes from the Humboldt current where the squid like to make its home. These squid can also be found farther south to the tip of South America and farther north off the coast of California.

The natural world has so much to offer mankind. Imagine how the world could change for the better if we delved into the secrets of the Earth while conserving it as well. New discoveries and treasures await us around every corner. We just have to know where to look.

Written by: Julie ‘Jules’ Cremer

Works Cited:

1. Keyser, Hannah. “Squid Beaks Could Hold the Key to Better Joint Implants”. http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/66015/squid-beaks-could-hold-the-key-to-better-joint-implants. Web. 9 July, 2015. Accessed 10 August, 2015

2. “Jumbo Squid, Dosidicus gigas ~ MarineBio.org.” MarineBio Conservation Society. Web. Accessed Monday, August 10, 2015