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Researchers find effective lubricant in beetle legs

Researchers at Germany’s University of Kiel have discovered a wax-like lubricant produced in the legs of beetles that appears to reduce friction more than polytetrafluoroethylene, which is more commonly known for the Teflon coating found on cookware like frying pans.

Much like in heavy machinery with moving parts, beetles protect against wear and tear in their joints through lubrication. While this is already widely known, Konstantin Nadein and his team found that Zophobas morio, a darkling beetle species, had such material with untypically potent lubrication properties in unusually large amounts.

It seems the beetle introduces the wax-like lubricant through pores in its shell. The cylinders, which can be up to one micrometre wide, are then distributed when the joint moves. While we’re unlikely to see this technology used in commonly found industrial lubricants like Morris slideway oil, it may have some applications in precision technology.

Extracting the lubricant from the beetles would be uneconomical on an industrial scale, however, with the produced lubricant likely being far more expensive than gold. The team is therefore looking at ways to synthesize it instead. Nadein said about this:

“First of all, we need to understand the molecular structure, and then perhaps it is possible. Maybe it is necessary to involve biotechnology and use bacteria to produce it.”

In addition to its friction-reducing properties, the natural lubricant also seems to deform under high loads and become a compressible layer between two surfaces, thus avoiding contact that would normally lead to abrasion and absorbing shocks.

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