As if untreatable strains of gonorrhea and sexually transmitted Zika virus weren't enough to make you wear protection, scientists at the University of Queensland are leaving you with even fewer excuses to not wear a condom. With latex improved with nanocellulose from spinifex grass, condoms being developed are not only stronger, but also thinner (about as thin as a human hair). Not only could it lead to better, safer sex, but the industry could mean economic gain for Australian Aborigines.

Out with the old, thin with the new

What's the problem with condoms? For some, they're uncomfortable. Sex is supposed to be fun, and condoms just aren't.

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Unfortunately, it's this same reason STD's are prowling. One way to combat the spread of sexually transmitted disease is to make improvements to the prophylactic design in ways that make condoms OK or better. So the race is on to develop better latex and even overhaul the entire design.

The latest breakthrough in condom technology is from scientists at University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN). They have found that by using spinifex nanocellulose, or special fibers from native grass, they can improve upon the physical properties of latex, and in turn, condoms. This study was conducted in partnership with the aboriginal owners of the Camooweal land, in northwestern Queensland.

Professor Darren Martin said in a recent press release:

"The great thing about our nanocellulose is that it's a flexible nano-additive, so we can make a stronger and thinner membrane that is supple and flexible, which is the Holy Grail for natural rubber.

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With a little more refinement, we think we can engineer a latex condom that's about 30 percent thinner, and will still pass all standards, and with more process optimisation work we will be able to make devices even thinner than this.

Nanocellulose latex would not only benefit condom manufacturers, it would also benefit surgeons who often suffer hand fatigue from the effects of current latex gloves. Martin believes that once the technology is fully developed, manufacturers will jump at the chance use this improved latex. Thinner condoms are one selling point to market and less material will mean production costs will go down.

Historical use of spinifex

Australian Aborigines have long used spinifex to make an adhesive, which was commonly used to attach spearheads to shafts. Looks like they had the right idea, but the wrong shaft.

Most importantly, history has taught us that when valuable resources are discovered on land of any kind, native populations get, again, the shaft. But the University of Queensland has signed an agreement to ensure that the Aboriginal land owners involved in spinifex production receive ongoing equity.

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The industrial potential for the Australian interior could be huge, and it's good to know that Aboriginal groups could benefit in a big way.

This isn't the first time Australian researchers have closed the gap between new and improved condoms and #Science. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the University of Wollongong $100,000 in 2014 to fund the development of a condom that could possibly feel better than nothing at all. In order to combat the spread of AIDS, antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea, and even the Zika virus, better condoms have to be developed. #Health #Buzz