As a last step, the researchers used plastic to mold model quills, which behaved just like the porcupine-made versions. That opens the way to developing medical applications. By isolating the ease with which quills penetrate skin and muscle, for example, scientists could develop porcupine-inspired needles that cause less pain.
The team also used their synthetic quills to create a barbed patch, which stuck well to tissues. Compared with a barbless-patch, it required 30 times more force to remove.
Like Velcro (which was inspired by cockleburs), penicillin (which came from yeast) and super-sticky tapes that are being developed using insights gained from gecko feet, the new study offers yet another example of technological advancements derived from the natural world, said Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
With so many species adapted to so many conditions, he said, there is still a lot left for us to learn.
"A lot of major accomplishments in the field of medicine have been made by replicating what nature does," Atala said.