A Boring Idea: Fig Wasp Physiology Could Mean Better Surgical Tools

by Michael Keller

Future surgeries requiring a doctor to dive deep into the body might be made considerably less invasive thanks to an unlikely inspiration: a parasitic fig wasp.

Mechanical engineers at the Indian Institute of Science have been investigating the reproductive process of Apocryta westwoodi grandi, a wasp that deposits its eggs inside a developing fig fruit next to those of another species of wasp. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the larvae of the non-parasitizing wasp before growing and emerging into the world.

While the interactions of the two wasp species and the plant are biologically interesting in their own right, the part that caught the eyes of researchers in Namrata Gundiah’s biomechanics laboratory was how the parasitic wasp deposited its eggs deep within the fruit.

Like many insects and some other animals, the parasitic wasp deposits its eggs through a long tubular organ called an ovipositor. But this particular wasp must pierce the skin and bore through the tough tissue of an unripened fig.

“From a mechanical perspective, it’s really interesting how this insect can penetrate a needle that is really quite flexible into hard material,” doctoral student Lakshminath Kundanati tells Txchnologist. “So we looked at the structure of the needle and whether any parts on it are specifically adapted to help.”

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