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Insect Wings & Vision

March 15, 2016

Futuristic eye implants could fight microbes with structures that mimic the bacteria ­busting wings of insects.


The center of an artificial cornea (on glove) is coated with tiny pillars that impale and kill bacterial cells (inset). JONATHAN PEGAN (CORNEA) AND MARY NORA DICKSON (INSET)1

The center of an artificial cornea (top) is coated with tiny pillars that impale and kill bacterial cells (bottom). (Top: Jonathan Pegan; bottom: and Mary Nora Dickson)


Visionary insects. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you’re a microbe, you should steer clear of cicada bugs to avoid being impaled by tiny but deadly hairs on the surface of their wings.

MARY NORA DICKSON (University of California, Irvine):

They would stab you right in the gut, and that’s kind of what’s happening to the bacteria.


At the meeting of the American Chemical Society, UC Irvine chemical engineer Mary Nora Dickson reported that the insect’s wing hairs are inspiring the design of artificial corneas with similar microbe-busting features.


Cicadas have developed over millions of years to have self-cleaning wings that can kill bacteria. Now we’ve developed plastic surfaces that can do the same thing based on the structures alone. We don’t need to introduce chemical modifications or antibiotic drugs to create a bacteriocidal effect.


Wing-inspired corneal implants could go into animal trials this year. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.