By Darren Quick
18:17 December 14, 2011
Arthropods have an outer skeleton made up of a composite material called cuticle that consists of layers of a polysaccharide polymer called chitin and protein organized in a laminar, plywood-like structure. In its unmodified form, which can be seen in the body wall of a caterpillar, chitin is translucent, pliable, resilient and quite tough, but arthropods are able to modify its properties to make it tough and rigid, as seen in the body wall of a beetle, or to make it elastic, as seen in arthropod limb joints. Not only does cuticle protect the arthropod's internal components and provide structure for muscles and wings, it does so without adding weight or bulk.Web-slinging arachnids already have researchers toiling away looking to replicate the remarkable properties of spider silk. Now spiders, along with their insect and crustacean arthropod cousins, have provided inspiration for a new material that is cheap to produce, biodegradable, and biocompatible. Its creators say the material, dubbed "Shrilk," has the potential to replace plastics in consumer products and could also be used safely in a variety of medical applications, such as suturing wounds or serving as scaffolding for tissue regeneration.