Mussels inspire boffins to create adhesive that can stick to almost anything

November 14th, 2007 - 2:31 am ICT by admin  
Phillip Messersmith and his colleagues discovered that mussels secreted a complex cocktail of proteins to latch on to just about any surface.

They found that the two prominent ingredients in this cocktail were the same as those in dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain.

So the researchers tried to find out if they could use dopamine to make an adhesive coating that matches the mussels’ natural stickiness.

As part of the experiment, first they added a drop of pure dopamine to a beaker of water that had the same acidity as seawater.

In this solution, the dopamine molecules went through chemical changes that caused them to link together and form new, larger molecules known as polymers.

The scientists found that this so-called polydopamine substance was remarkably sticky. Any object put in the new solution got coated with a thin, adhesive film, the researchers found.

“It pretty much worked well on just about any material that we tried. It is really tremendously simple,” said Messersmith.

Further studies revealed that the dopamine-based glue could be used to make a variety of additional materials stick to objects, creating a host of functional applications.

Applying certain materials over a sticky object could prevent an object from becoming contaminated - a handy feature for medical instruments, the researchers said, adding that secondary exposure to a copper nitrate solution gave an object a metallic sheen, useful in electronics such as flexible displays.

In another application, they found that water polluted with mercury or lead could be passed through a column of beads coated in the adhesive. The metals stuck to the beads, allowing clean water to flow out the other side.

“Each of these applications involves pretty much the same first step but a different second step,” said Messersmith.

Messersmith and his colleagues are now trying to determine the limits of the technology and where to focus their development efforts.

The results appear this week in the journal Science, reports National Geographic. (ANI)

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