News / Health

Scientists Create Glue Inspired by Mussels

Sticky, self-healing properties could have far-reaching medical and industrial applications

Mussels, like these on Onetangi Beach in New Zealand, have inspired an international team of scientists to design an artificial, self-healing gel that lends itself to underwater applications.
Mussels, like these on Onetangi Beach in New Zealand, have inspired an international team of scientists to design an artificial, self-healing gel that lends itself to underwater applications.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Have you ever wondered how those hard-shelled mollusks known as mussels anchor themselves to rocks on lake and river bottoms? How they stick to sea walls, or resist pounding waves?

Scientists at the University of Chicago have done more than come up with some answers. They’ve actually created a synthetic gel that mimics the mussel’s sticky, self-healing properties. Their invention could have far-reaching medical and industrial applications.

Niels Holten-Anderson - a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Chicago - says mussels do two things really well. They excrete a sticky adhesive and they can use that natural glue to repair the anchoring bond. 

University of Chicago Chemistry professor Ka Yee Lee, postdoctoral scholar Niels Holten-Andersen and team have invented a new synthetic mussel-inspired material that exhibits both strength and reversibility.
University of Chicago Chemistry professor Ka Yee Lee, postdoctoral scholar Niels Holten-Andersen and team have invented a new synthetic mussel-inspired material that exhibits both strength and reversibility.

"And the important thing to remember is that there are no cells. There is no live or living activity taking place inside these materials. The material is basically a dead material, just like our hair," says Holten-Anderson. "So this capacity to re-heal itself is completely automatic, and it’s not relying on any energy input from living cells."

Holten-Anderson, his University of Chicago colleagues and a team of international scientists worked on how to turn what mussels create naturally into a synthetic material. They zeroed in on the chemistry of what the mollusks secrete and discovered metal mixed inside their thin, hold-fast fibers. Holten-Anderson says iron is a key ingredient that makes the adhesive strong and flexible.

"The unique thing is that you can pull them apart and if you leave them be, they can find their partners again and re-heal, and that’s where the original strength of the healing comes from."

Mussels generate their own self-healing sticky material, which allows them to attach to rocks and to repair tiny tears caused by breaking waves and sand abrasion, but the elastic gel attached to this one was created in the laboratory.
Mussels generate their own self-healing sticky material, which allows them to attach to rocks and to repair tiny tears caused by breaking waves and sand abrasion, but the elastic gel attached to this one was created in the laboratory.

Holten-Anderson and colleagues set out to replicate that in the laboratory using a synthetic polymer or a simplified version of a string of mussel protein molecules. They succeeded when they pre-mixed the polymer with metal salts at low pH.  

"You instantly get an initiation of these self-healing gel-like, sticky materials as soon as you do this basically step-wise process of mixing things," he says, "and then increase the pH potentially mimicking what happens in the natural case anyway."

Iron is the metal available to mussels in the environment. Holten-Anderson says scientists can expand that pallet and experiment with other metals.

"We’ve shown so far that a metal such as titanium, for example, which is interesting from the bio-medical side of things with implants materials and so forth, that we can actually use titanium atoms too to cross in these materials and those materials seem to have even stronger, even higher strength than the iron based materials."

Holten-Anderson expects the nature-inspired material will have practical medical and industrial uses. A patent is pending on how to make the gel, which is described online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You May Like

Italian Red Cross Chief: Don't Label Migrants 'Illegal'

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York Wednesday Francesco Rocca says migrants are victims, not criminals More

US Intel Officials Cautious About New IS Threat

Threat, said to have been posted by alleged American member of Islamic State terror group, says Sunday’s attack in Texas ‘is only the beginning’ More

Eyes in Sky Monitor Weather, Predict Epidemics

Satellites track storms, population movements, ocean warming to predict disease conditions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

VOA Blogs