Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Miming Stingers

Mimicking insect stings in the design of new painless ‘microneedles’

13 November 2018

Miming Stingers

A sting from a bee or wasp can be painful, and cause further problems for those with allergies. Yet pain may not be the insect’s intention – at least not at first. Here, a scanning electron microscope zooms in on a stinger from a Vespula vulgaris wasp – its serrated ‘lancet’ ready to poke out and pierce flesh. Computer analysis shows that the stinger has a flexible tip adapted, potentially, to reduce initial pain and shock – giving the insect more time to release its venom for maximum impact. These macabre mechanical insights are guiding the design of new painless ‘microneedles’, flexible at the tip to reduce pain and copying the exact angles of entry used by wasps and bees to deliver chemicals efficiently. Scientists believe different insects, including mosquitos, have other mechanical secrets. Perhaps these will inspire biomimetic devices to treat the exact conditions that bites and stings help to spread.

Written by John Ankers

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