Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal

Woo Kyung Cho, James A. Ankrum, Dagang Guo, Shawn A. Chester, Seung Yun Yang, Anurag Kashyap, Georgina A. Campbell, Robert J. Wood, Ram K. Rijal, Rohit Karnik, Robert Langer, Jeffrey M. Karp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


North American porcupines are well known for their specialized hairs, or quills that feature microscopic backward-facing deployable barbs that are used in self-defense. Herein we show that the natural quill's geometry enables easy penetration and high tissue adhesion where the barbs specifically contribute to adhesion and unexpectedly, dramatically reduce the force required to penetrate tissue. Reduced penetration force is achieved by topography that appears to create stress concentrations along regions of the quill where the cross sectional diameter grows rapidly, facilitating cutting of the tissue. Barbs located near the first geometrical transition zone exhibit the most substantial impact on minimizing the force required for penetration. Barbs at the tip of the quill independently exhibit the greatest impact on tissue adhesion force and the cooperation between barbs in the 0-2 mm and 2-4mmregions appears critical to enhance tissue adhesion force. The dual functions of barbs were reproduced with replica molded synthetic polyurethane quills. These findings should serve as the basis for the development of bio-inspired devices such as tissue adhesives or needles, trocars, and vascular tunnelers where minimizing the penetration force is important to prevent collateral damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21289-21294
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - Dec 26 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Biomimicry
  • Medical tape
  • Microneedle
  • Staples
  • Sutures


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