A new form of super glue could come from an unlikely source.
Scientists at Purdue University created a new polymer adhesive inspired by the proteins mussels use to stick to rocks.
The researchers specifically analyzed amino acids in the glue called DOPA, which contains compounds called catechols that let these creatures bind directly to a surface and stay there under extreme conditions. The end results produced a material the scientists call poly(catechol-styrene).
“We are focusing on catechols given that the animals use this type of chemistry so successfully,” said lead researcher and Purdue University chemistry and materials engineering professor Jonathan Walker, Ph.D., in a statement. “Poly(catechol-styrene) is looking to be, possibly, one of the strongest underwater adhesives found to date.”
Testing involving the polymer revealed it performed better than 10 commercial adhesives when bonding to polished aluminum, according to the announcement.
It yielded similar strong results when bonding to wood, Telfon and polished aluminum.
“These findings are helping to reveal which aspects of mussel adhesion are most important when managing attachment within their wet and salty environment,” continued Wilker. “All that is needed for high strength bonding underwater appears to be a catechol-containing polymer.”
Notably, this nature-inspired glue demonstrated it was 17 times stronger than the natural compound produced by mussels when dunked underwater.
The team explained that usually synthetic versions of natural compounds don’t perform as well as the genuine article, but one theory is that this glue is only as strong as needed for certain biological requirements. It breaks apart to help the animals safely escape when being hunted by predators.
Future experiments will involve testing this adhesive system in real-world conditions.
The study was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.