Getting a Grip on the Goose Barnacle

Posted on 8/20/2012 8:40:57 AM By Scientific American; Claire O'Connell

A group of researchers in Galway, Ireland, is using Twitter and Facebook to find barnacles, encouraging members of the public to alert them if they find clumps of barnacles washed ashore on the west coast of Ireland. The researchers hope to learn more about how the animals stick to surfaces, which may eventually inform the development of new synthetic glues. Anne Marie Power and Jaimie-Leigh Jonker at NUI Galway are specifically after large, stalked, goose barnacles. The marine crustacean produces an adhesive made up of several proteins and can affix to material such as wood, plastic, glass and even other animals and plants. All of the adhesive components appear to be produced together in the same large gland cell, which is quite different from the adhesive systems of other animals, where components are separated prior to being extruded from the body. The goose barnacle adhesive also seems to have its own way of sticking around; researchers have yet to find in the goose barnacle the types of protein residues that are common in other animal adhesives. One of the challenges in the project to date has been to gather specimens. Goose barnacles can dehydrate and die quickly when washed ashore, so they have to be rescued promptly and moved to an aquarium. As such, the scientists have started a social media campaign this summer to get people to tell them when they find the sticky marine creatures. Once retrieved, the barnacles will be kept in an aquarium, and the researchers will examine gene expression in the animals and chemical bonds in the adhesive.

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