Climbing ivy has a secret ’superglue’

May 20th, 2008 - 4:32 pm ICT by admin  

London, May 20 (ANI): Ever wondered how ivy sticks to walls so effortlessly? Well, now researchers at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, US, have begun to unravel the mystery.

They found that the plant’s stem exudes nano-sized globules that let it cling tightly to sheer surfaces.

Darwin wrote about ivy at length in his book The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.

He noted that there are tiny disc-shaped projections, called rootlets, on the stem of the plant that secrete a yellowish substance and attach to rough surfaces.

“As the disks can almost immediately adhere firmly to such smooth surfaces as planed and painted wood … this alone would render it probable that some cement is secreted,” New Scientist quoted him, as stating in the book.

Now, a team led by Mingjun Zhang at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, US, has done the first in-depth analysis of these secretions and found that they contain tiny globules, each about 70 nanometres across, with extraordinary sticking power.

They spotted the nanoparticles and ran them through chemical tests, revealing 19 different primary compounds.

Most of these compounds were found to be polar molecules, which means that there is an imbalance of electric charge within them, making them prone to link with other molecules through hydrogen bonds.

Such bonds are relatively weak, but Zhang found that, “adding up millions or billions of weak adhesion or hydrogen bonds could be a big force. That is what ivy is doing.

Zhang further said that the globules are very small, and can fit into almost anywhere, helping the plants stick to many different surfaces.

By understanding what makes the nanoparticles stick, the researchers hope to work out way to counteract it.

“We are investigating a paint that may protect walls from damage by climbing ivy,” Zhang said.

Researchers are also looking at engineering ivy to produce custom nanoparticles, a process known as green manufacturing.

Suzi Jarvis of University College Dublin in Ireland said: “The idea of looking at ivy attachment at the nanoscale seems novel and emphasises how little we still know about this very common natural phenomenon.

“The work should make people more aware that nature is already utilising nanoparticles,” Jarvis added.

She thinks studying plants like ivy could uncover entirely novel nano-materials. (ANI)

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