There’s a grass that grows in Australia which covers about 30 percent of the continent, roughly three times the size of Texas. Called spinifex, the plant’s unique cell structure contains a high amount of hemicellulose, the non-stiff part of the cell wall, which allows it to maintain flexibility in extreme heat so it doesn’t crack and release all its water.
Some indigenous communities in Australia have long known spinifex has useful applications and properties. And today, in a press release, researchers from the University of Queensland announced that spinifex has what they believe to be profound implications for the future of latex condom manufacturing. They claim fibers from the grass can improve latex to make condoms as thin as a human hair without any loss in strength.
Because of spinifex’s structure, the researchers discovered that the plant’s long, thin nanofibers are easy to extract and suspend really nicely in water. “So one of the first things we thought was: we have to put these things into rubber,” says lead researcher professor Darren Martin. “One of the holy grails of rubber is to be able to throw an additive in without making it stiff.”