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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest 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.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid