Scientists can now manufacture a synthetic version of the self-healing sticky substance that mussels use to anchor themselves to rocks in pounding ocean surf and surging tidal basins. A patent is pending on the substance, whose potential applications include use as an adhesive or coating for underwater machinery or in biomedical settings as a surgical adhesive or bonding agent for implants.
Inspiring the invention were the hair-thin holdfast fibers that mussels secrete to stick against rocks in lakes, rivers and oceans. “Everything amazingly just self-assembles underwater in a matter of minutes, which is a process that’s still not understood that well,” said Niels Holten-Andersen, a postdoctoral scholar with chemistry professor Ka Yee Lee at the University of Chicago.
Holten-Andersen, Lee and an international team of colleagues are publishing the details of their invention this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. Holten-Andersen views the evolution of life on Earth as “this beautiful, amazingly huge experiment” in which natural selection has enabled organisms to evolve an optimal use of materials over many millions of years.