Aug 29, 2018

Trinity Bioengineers Discover Self-Healing Abilities of Seashore Creatures

Limpets sense damage to their shells and self-heal in a similar way to how mammals mend broken bones.

Emma DonohoeStaff Writer

Trinity bioengineers have discovered that limpets are able to detect minor damage to their shells with surprising accuracy before remodelling them to make them stronger.

The research was recently published by the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The bioengineers discovered that the apex of a limpet’s shell takes the brunt of any major damage to protect its contents. The sea creatures seem to know or sense that this damage has occurred to structurally vital elements of their shell. They subsequently carry out active repairs themselves by depositing new biological material to repair structural weaknesses and restore former mechanical strength.


Maeve O’Neill is the co-first author and a PhD Candidate in Trinity’s School of Engineering. In a press release, she said: “Our study shows that limpets are able to repair damage to their shell, both visually and functionally, and that they are also able to restore mechanical strength in as little as a month. The way they do this is essentially similar to how bones heal in mammals, as the process is at least partially carried out by the deposition of new material.”

The research team constructed simulations of the stresses experienced by limpets in their natural habitat to assess how they respond to damage. The researchers dropped weights to imitate rough seas and moving rocks/debris; general abrasion and shell weathering by using a metal file. They also used a nail to create a hole in the shell’s apex to mimic a predatory attack. The limpets reacted to these stresses by repairing their shells from within, and while after 60 days the shells were never as thick as before, they had regained their former protective strength.

David Taylor, a professor of Materials Engineering at Trinity, said: “We’ve studied healing before, in human bones and also in the exoskeletons of insects, but we were amazed to discover that these simple marine organisms are capable of reacting in a very subtle and clever way.”

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