Purdue University scientists have found the glue that saltwater mussels use to affix themselves to rocks is a subject worth sticking to, both for its pure scientific interest and for its potential applications in medicine and industry.
Jonathan Wilker of the Purdue University chemistry department examines a group of saltwater mussels. The natural glue these creatures make to anchor themselves to the sea floor has surprising chemical characteristics and could have applications in medicine and industry. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)
Jonathan Wilker and his research group have discovered that the formation of mussel adhesive requires iron, a metal that has never before been found in such a biological function. While the discovery is valuable for its scientific merit, it also could impact the market as well, leading to surgical adhesives, rustproof coatings and antifouling paints to defeat barnacle adhesion.
"These animals appear to use iron in a way that has never been seen before," said Wilker, an assistant professor of chemistry in Purdues School of Science. "Research based on materials like this one could open up new branches of adhesives research, helping us to do things such as develop new surgical procedures and prevent barnacles from sticking to ships."
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