Magazine article Science News

Marine Superglue: Mussels Get Stickiness from Iron in Seawater

Magazine article Science News

Marine Superglue: Mussels Get Stickiness from Iron in Seawater

Article excerpt

As inhabitants of rugged shores, mussels have an amazing capacity to stick to rocks, despite the constant pounding of waves. These organisms are also notorious for sticking to ships, glass, and, well, just about anything--even Teflon.

Researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., say they have uncovered the secret to what makes mussel glue so strong. It's iron. Once they understand the glue's chemistry, researchers might develop more effective antifouling paints to prevent mussels, barnacles, and other hangers-on from sticking to ships. Another payoff could be stronger biomaterials, particularly sutures and other wound-closing products.

Chemists have long known that mussels secrete an adhesive that consists of a hardened matrix of proteins. "These are really tough fibers," says polymer chemist Robin Garrell of the University of California, Los Angeles. Exactly how these proteins link together to give the material, called byssus, its strength has remained unclear.

Jonathan Wilker and his colleagues at Purdue decided to investigate. They collected hundreds of common blue mussels off the coast of Maine and placed them on glass sheets in laboratory tanks of salt water. After the mussels fixed themselves to the glass, the researchers cut the mollusks free and scraped off the glue left behind.

Chemical analyses of the material revealed a high concentration of iron, which the mussels extract from seawater. The researchers then harvested the adhesive's precursor molecules directly from the mussels. …

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