Spinifex fibres ideal new ingredient for medical gels

Majority Indigenous-owned company Trioda Wilingi has received new funding to develop innovative medical gels from spinifex cellulose nanofibres harvested in North West Queensland.
Lizzie Thelwell
Lizzie Thelwell
Freelance Writer
Spinifex fibres ideal new ingredient for medical gels
Image credit: Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

Triodia pungens, commonly known as spinifex, is more than just a useful plant.

Traditional Owners have known about its astonishing properties for a very long time. It’s drought and fire resistant and used to heal wounds and make tools such as spearpoints, axes and knives. It’s also naturally abundant.

To add to its list of uses, the cellulose nanofibres extracted from spinifex will now be used in injectable medical gels to treat arthritis and osteoarthritis. It can also be used for cosmetic procedures.

This breakthrough has been made possible by a collaboration between Bulugudu, a collection of companies owned by the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu people, and Uniseed. The collaboration will fund majority Indigenous-owned company Trioda Wilingi to develop the gels from spinifex harvested in North West Queensland.

The science of spinifex’s strength

The project started when researchers at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology wanted to know the science behind what makes spinifex so special.

“Cellulose fibres are in high demand as reinforcing agents for many products, including surgical gloves, paper, nappies and condoms,” says Dr Jane Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian National Fabrication Facility.

“In the case of spinifex, the reinforcing fibres maintain a high aspect ratio, meaning that they have a high length to width ratio and therefore a high surface area to volume ratio.

“This reinforces them and makes them really strong and ideal for many products.”

Spinifex has shown enough promise that the Australian National Fabrication Facility is currently collaborating with Trioda Wilingi on commercialising its use.

A milder extraction process

More common materials like bamboo or wood require a long process to extract their cellulose. They also require the use of harsh chemicals.

In contrast, spinifex has the benefit of needing a very mild extraction process. It involves washing, drying and grinding down the grass to produce a fine powder. The nanofibres are then extracted by pulping the powder and separating them from the mixture with mechanical energy.

The makings for a better medical gel

Early data shows that gels using the spinifex nanofibres will last longer, be easier to inject and may be safer than current medical gel products.

The spinifex fibres help retain water by forming a three-dimensional network within the volume of water. Hydrogels become thin under pressure, but the fibres of the spinifex allow the gel to flow through the needle and then reform on the other side.

Managing the spinifex crops

The spinifex plant grows all year round, and the spinifex resin is in abundance between April and September. It is a bountiful crop with hundreds of thousands of tonnes growing in the wild.

Spinifex grass at The Pilbara | Getty Images

Bulugudu has a permit to harvest 77,000 square kilometres of the crop.

Colin Saltmere AM, Director of Bulugudu, says it’s vital that Indigenous people continue to have a say in how spinifex is grown and managed.

“The Indjalandji-Dhidhanu people, the Traditional Owners of the upper Georgina River region in Queensland, have known about spinifex for a long time. We know how to look after it naturally with specialist farming equipment,” says Colin.

“The more you burn it, the more it grows. And we only harvest 0.02–0.03% of the crop and 125 millimetres off the top.”

“It needs to remain protected and harvested in such a way that it doesn’t harm the environment.”

Next steps

Dr Jane Fitzpatrick says the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu people are a vital part of the partnership.

“It was the idea of the Traditional Owners, and their understanding and knowledge of spinifex is key to the project,” she says.

“There is a Biodiscovery Act in Queensland, which means you have to have a licence to take anything from Country. Bulugudu has a licence so they will continue to manage and control it.

“Next steps depend on the research period ahead, but we are very excited to continue this work and see the benefits of using spinifex unfold.”

Lizzie Thelwell
About the author
Lizzie Thelwell
Lizzie is a journalist, copywriter and communications professional. She writes about a wide variety of topics but has a particular interest in health and medicine.
View articles
Lizzie is a journalist, copywriter and communications professional. She writes about a wide variety of topics but has a particular interest in health and medicine.
View articles


We've got chemistry, let's take it to the next level!

Get the latest WA science news delivered to your inbox, every fortnight.


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy