Royal Society Publishing

Housing tubes from the marine worm Chaetopterus sp.: biomaterials with exceptionally broad thermomechanical properties

Darshil U. Shah, Fritz Vollrath, David Porter, John Stires, Dimitri D. Deheyn


The housing tube material of the marine worm Chaetopterus sp. exhibits thermal stability up to 250°C, similar to other biological materials such as mulberry silkworm cocoons. Interestingly, however, dynamic mechanical thermal analysis conducted in both air and water elucidated the lack of a glass transition in the organic tube wall material. In fact, the viscoelastic properties of the anhydrous and undried tube were remarkably stable (i.e. constant and reversible) between –75°C and 200°C in air, and 5°C and 75°C in water, respectively. Moreover, it was found that hydration and associated-water plasticization were key to the rubber-like flexible properties of the tube; dehydration transformed the material behaviour to glass-like. The tube is made of bionanocomposite fibrils in highly oriented arrangement, which we argue favours the biomaterial to be highly crystalline or cross-linked, with extensive hydrogen and/or covalent bonds. Mechanical property characterization in the longitudinal and transverse directions ascertained that the tubes were not quasi-isotropic structures. In general, the higher stiffness and strength in the transverse direction implied that there were more nanofibrils orientated at ±45° and ±65° than at 0° to the tube axis. The order of the mechanical properties of the soft–tough tubes was similar to synthetic rubber-like elastomers and even some viscid silks. The complex structure–property relations observed indicated that the worm has evolved to produce a tubular housing structure which can (i) function stably over a broad range of temperatures, (ii) endure mechanical stresses from specific planes/axes, and (iii) facilitate rapid growth or repair.

  • Received May 19, 2014.
  • Accepted June 19, 2014.
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