Superglue From The Sea

25 January 2004
Posted by Chris Smith.

Superglue inspired by seashells could lead to new surgical adhesives and could help to stop barnacles growing on boats. Chemists have unravelled the secret of how mussels glue themselves so firmly to rocks on the sea shore - the natural glue is made out of crosslinked protein molecules and the key ingredient is charged atoms of iron (Fe3+) that sets the glue solid. The glue itself, or a synthetic version, could be useful for surgeons, because it's compatible with biological tissues and forms a strong bond in wet conditions. And by understanding how mussels stick themselves to surfaces chemists may soon be able to develop new ways of stopping mussels and barnacles from growing on the bottom of boats. Marine foaling as it's called is a major problem for the shipping industry, and at the moment the only line of defence is to use poisonous paints, containing copper, which kill the animals before they can attach themselves. But the problem is these paints are highly toxic so hopefully this new superglue discovery will lead to more environmentally friendly coatings, which could be designed to release specific chemicals that interrupt the glue setting process.

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