There are many strange animals and plants in nature. Venus’s Flower Basket, a sponge is such a creature. That sponge can produce glass inside their body from sea water ! That’s why it is also known as “glass sponge”. These sponges are also known as a symbol of happy conjugal life in Japan.
Venus’s Flower Basket is also known as Euplectella aspergillum. It belongs to the class Hexactinellid in the phylum of Porifera. It can be found in some places under the western Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. One can see them often near Philippines and Japan.
The most interesting thing about Venus’s Flower Basket is its body structure. The body is cylindrical and vase shaped with a hollow inside. The body is composed with silica spicules with 6 points. There are three thin glass threads of glass fiber in a spicule. These spicules are nothing but small pin like structures in the tissue of the sponge. The hard spicules give it the strength to withstand the water pressure in the deep ocean.
The spicules produce fine mesh. It looks like a cloth under a microscope. That glass mesh gives the sponge its structural strength.
When quartz (Silicon Di Oxide) comes in contact with sea water, a slow reaction takes place. The reaction produces Silisic acid (H
4). The sponge, Euplectella aspergillum can extract that Silisic acid from the sea water. It can produce silica inside its body from the acid. That silica is nothing but pure glass.
That capacity of the sponge to produce hairy thin pure glass fiber has attracted many researchers. They are trying to learn the exact process. It is much more efficient then our modern techniques which required immense heat and a large amount of power. If we can successfully learn it from the Venus’s flower basket, we will be able to produce high quality optical fibers way too cheaply. As a result, cost of our digital infrastructure, internet, cable television, many digital equipment will be reduced.
Why the Optical Fiber Produced by Venus’s Flower Basket is Better Than Ours?
It seems incredible that the naturally produced optical fiber is superior than ours. Yes, in this case our technology is no match to nature. It is better because:-
1) That natural optical fiber has much less optical loss. It can conduct light much better. It is because it has trace amounts of sodium ions doped into it.
2) The glass production by Venus’s Flower Basket is done in normal temperature. No need of high temperature like our process. So, it can be easier to dope the glass with useful ions to make it better or add some extra functionalities (like semi conductivity or photo-electric capabilities).
3) The natural glass fiber made by the sponge is more flexible than ours. The flexibility is a desirable quality of fiber optic cables.
A Symbol of Happy Married Life
Venus’s Flower Basket is regarded as a symbol of happy married life in many Asian cultures. That’s why it is regarded as a valuable wedding gift in Japan. The reason behind it is interesting.
These sponges are the safe home of some small abyssal shrimps. A male and a female shrimp lives like a married couple in a venus’s flower basket. They lives symbiotically with the sponge. They clean it from parasites. In return, the sponge gives them shelter and also food by attracting small insects with bioluminescence. The couple breed inside the sponge. The baby shrimps come out and seek their own glass sponge as “home”.