A Sticky Question for MIT Researchers: How do Mussels Stay Put?

Posted on 7/31/2013 10:50:16 AM By ASC

For years scientists and industry have been pursuing biomimetic adhesives. Research has focused on barnacles, kelp, geckos, insects, and mussels, among other things. Now, a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has determined that the ‘glue’ mussels make is only part of the story. By comparing the strength of mussel adhesive to the expected force from waves, they found that the adhesive should regularly fail and in fact appeared to be far too weak to secure mussels in place. This led Markus Buehler, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and his colleagues to look at the “byssus threads” that join the mussel to the adhesive base. They found that the majority of each byssus thread is stiff, but they have flexible segments where the thread attaches to the mussel. This unusual structure seems to be conferring the holding strength seen in byssus threads. The group at MIT is now working to produce a synthetic version of byssus threads and hopes that the insights gains from their structure may be used to create more secure adhesive joints.