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Shellfish-inspired waterproof glue could help repair ships

"We’re trying to figure out if by adding other mussel foot proteins, we can increase the adhesive strength," said Timothy Lu.

By Brooks Hays
Shellfish-inspired waterproof glue could help repair ships
Mussels cling to the side of a ship. (CC/CSIRO)

BOSTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A new waterproof glue -- modeled after the proteins that help mussels, barnacles and other shellfish cling to rocks, pylons, boats and other underwater debris -- may have important naval and medical applications, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The super strong adhesive may be useful in repairing ships or healing wounds.

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Researchers at MIT say they didn't just mimic nature, they bested it. In the lab, the scientists were able to coax bacteria into producing a hybrid material -- part ultra-sticky mussel proteins, part super-slimy bacterial proteins. The result is a glue-like substance that's stronger than mussel proteins alone and resistant to water.

"The ultimate goal for us is to set up a platform where we can start building materials that combine multiple different functional domains together and to see if that gives us better materials performance," Timothy Lu, MIT bioengineer and author of the new study, said in a press release.

Lu and his fellow researchers say the process for creating the adhesive is extensive. Their current synthesizing techniques only allow them to create a little bit at a time, so they're now looking to come up with a more efficient production process.

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One way to improve the process would be to experiment with other shellfish materials.

"We're trying to figure out if by adding other mussel foot proteins, we can increase the adhesive strength even more and improve the material's robustness," Lu said. "A lot of underwater organisms need to be able to stick to things, so they make all sorts of different types of adhesives that you might be able to borrow from."

The research was highlighted in the latest issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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