How beetle penises can help with medical innovation

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The WHO has identified antibiotic resistant superbugs as one of the greatest threats to humanity.

We’ve become so hooked on antibiotics that we’ve worn down their effectiveness over time. Unless we take urgent steps to reverse this behaviour it won’t be too long before a small cut could lead to a serious life threatening infection with no cure.

Looking at a beetle you’d be forgiven for not spotting a feature of its body which might provide the inspiration for part of the solution: it’s penis.

Today’s hospitals are a perfect breeding ground for nasty ‘superbugs’ like MRSA. One of the most prevalent sources of infection are catheters. Used to drain fluids or add nutrients to the body, they offer a convenient entry point for these nasty critters to get into the bloodstream of a vulnerable patient. A better designed catheter would, therefore, have an enormous impact on reducing the rates of post-operative infections.

Research into the structure and functionality of a thistle tortoise beetle’s penis has revealed that it could solve the issue of ‘inexact tip placement and buckling of the line’ that affects the current design of catheter.

It’s ability to remain rigid in one part and soft and flexible in the other means that it could inspire the next generation of catheters with greatly reduced rates of infection.

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