Mussel byssus enables mussel to surfaces even in water: Credit: Tara Fadenrecht, Niels Holten-Andersen, image via sciencedaily.com A new gel that the inventors say you can play with like Silly Putty, can repair torn skin, bond implants, or act as an adhesive for underwater machinery. The invention, under development for several years, is now patent pending, and it's all thanks to the biomimicry of a mussel's byssus, the hair-size filaments that form a sticky foam enabling the mussel's fierce attachment to rocks, substrates, and beds on the sea walls and floors.
Like the gecko, the mussel's 'sticktuitiveness' has been admired by scientists from many disciplines, and several attempts have been made to biomimic the strength of the byssus, but prior agents have compromised either the strength or the brittleness of the glue. Nevertheless, each experiment was built on the findings of the past, as was this accomplishment built on the finding that an amino acid known as 'dopa' was the key ingredient in the adhesive protein of the byssus.
The research chemists Neils Holten-Anderson and Ka Yee Lee from the University of Chicago, leading an international team of colleagues, dealt with the strength versus brittleness factors in their version of 'Silly Putty,' a gel that can be made firmer by changing the pH values, and less brittle by adding metals, such as iron, titanium, or aluminum, into the mix.
"Our aspiration is to learn some new design principles from nature that we
haven't yet actually been using in man-made materials that we can then apply to
make man-made materials even better," said Holten-Anderson.
That's biomimicry! And that's progress!
sources: Science Daily, Wikipedia The full paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Early Edition (1/24/11)