[FOUNTAIN]The benefits of bug science

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[FOUNTAIN]The benefits of bug science

What material is as light as fluff, as strong as steel and as durable as nylon? It is the spider web. The thickness of a spider silk strand is one-tenth that of a human hair, but when it is pressed together, it is five times stronger than steel of the same thickness.
Unlike silkworms, which have been used to make silk for 5,200 years, spiders have not made a contribution for mankind. The amount of silk strands a spider can produce through its lifetime is limited, and because of a tendency of preying on one another, spiders cannot be reared.
Instead, it is possible that artificial spider silk will be commercialized soon. A few years ago, a Canadian biotech venture transplanted genes related to spider silk to a goat’s mammary glands and successfully extracted the material needed to produce spider silk from the goat milk.
A cockroach carries more than 100 germs and is a target of extermination at home. However, to the robot scientists, it is a creature to model after. They study the cockroach to imitate the stable and speedy movement of its six legs. American scientists made a robot by applying the anatomical structure of the cockroach, and it can travel 50 times its body length in a very short time. This small, multi-legged robot can be equipped with a remote controlled chip to penetrate rooms that cannot be reached by humans. It can also be used for military reconnaissance.
Using and imitating the abilities of insects is called “insect technology.” Insects can produce substances that cannot be artificially synthesized and have outstanding senses and functions that cannot be imitated by humans. With over 1 million varieties living on earth, scientists claim that insects are a great resource.
According to foreign news last week, a U.S. national research institute is conducting a study, training honeybees with a highly developed olfactory sense for explosive detection. The U.S. Forces have already used the honeybees in actual battles of the Iraq War to detect mines and bombs. Japan turned to the insect industry early and developed the technology to apply the coloring structure of the jewel beetle, which boasts seven brilliant colors including gold and green, on cars and other metallic surfaces. It is an environment-friendly coloring technology.
The insect industry in Korea mainly focuses on breeding edible and pet insects, applications for organic farming and tourism, such as the butterfly festival and firefly festival. We should take it one step further and open our eyes to insect technology by applying the latest science.

*The writer is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Yi Jung-jae

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