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Underwater Adhesive Created Using Techniques Of Rock-Clinging Mussels

Dec 03, 2015 03:24 PM EST
Intertidal Mussels
Mussels secrete a sticky substance that keeps them anchored to slippery rocks when waves crash over them.
(Photo : Kolbe Ahn)

Have researchers finally developed an adhesive that can remain sticky when submerged in water? Using the key functionalities observed in a mussel's foot proteins, researchers from the University of California - Santa Barbara (UCSB) have made strides toward a sticky breakthrough.

"We have successfully mimicked the biological adhesive delivery mechanism in water with an unprecedented level of underwater adhesion," Kolbe Ahn, lead author of the recent study and a UCSB research faculty member, explained in a news release. "More importantly, this less than two-nanometer-thin layer can be used not only at the nano-length scale, but also in the macro-length scale to boost the performance of current bulk adhesives."

Despite powerful tidal waves and wind, mussels are able to cling to surfaces because what's called the byssal gland in the shellfish's foot secrets a combination of proteins known as byssus threads. These anchor them to slippery rocks. Researchers were inspired by this miraculous ability and sought to replicate the proteins in a laboratory setting.

The recent study builds on previous work of UCSB professor J. Herbert Waite, who spent 30 years investigating the adhesion strategies mussels use along inhospitable, rocky shorelines, where waves and wind crash constantly. While mussels aren't the only marine creatures that employ wet adhesion, they exhibit characteristics that can be directly observed and mimicked.

Scientists have long struggled to successfully emulate the sticky adaptations of mollusks -- which has taken the critters hundreds of millions of years to evolve. But a new low-molecular-weight, one-component adhesive proves to stand up to the challenge. UCSB researchers recently created a less-complex synthetic material with a record-setting resistance to water that can prime and fuse two surfaces underwater. In fact, their substance remains 10 times more adhesive underwater compared to the effectiveness previously demonstrated in other such materials.

Their findings, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, have implications for basic repair of materials regularly exposed to salty water, in addition to biomedical and dental uses, and nanofabrication.

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