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Shellfish inspires waterproof super glue: Here's what it can do

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Shellfish are the source of a new form of waterproof super glue developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The new adhesive was produced from proteins found in mussels, and it could prove beneficial in a wide range of applications, from medicine to marine craft repair.

Mussels, like barnacles, exude highly sticky proteins that help them stay attached to docks, boats, and other objects in the water. Researchers at MIT, inspired by these natural adhesives, set out to create a similar product, based on these same organic structures. They genetically engineered bacteria capable of producing the sticky proteins found in mussels, along with a bacterial protein that produced slime in biofilms of microorganisms.

Bacteria are used as tiny biological factories in the production of the glue.

Mussel foot proteins consist of a range of biological structures meant to grasp a wide range of surfaces.

"A lot of underwater organisms need to be able to stick to things, so they make all sorts of different types of adhesives that you might be able to borrow from," Timothy Lu, associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) at MIT, and senior author of an article announcing the development, said.

Previous research was able to produce E. coli bacteria capable of exuding individual forms of mussel foot proteins. However, this new development was the first time a full array of the chemicals have been manufactured using bacterial factories. The initial study showed that greatest adhesion was found when mussel foot proteins 3 and 5 were compounded in equal quantities. Researchers are currently studying how various combinations of the proteins affect the ability of the substance to adhere to different materials.

This new adhesive is one of the strongest protein-based waterproof glues, inspired by nature, that has ever been developed. The new artificially produced adhesive is even stronger than the natural glues that adhere mussels to boats, piers, and other surfaces. However, only small quantities can be produced utilizing current techniques, and other methods would be required for industrial production.

The new glue could be used to repair ships, as well as underwater research stations. Medical research could also benefit, as the waterproof adhesive could be used to close wounds. Living glues could also be developed from this research. Such a coating would protect the items, sensing damage when it occurs, sealing any hole or tear produced.

The development of the new waterproof adhesive, based on proteins found in mussels, was profiled in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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