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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