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Chemists Crack Secrets of Mussels' Super Glue 197

Roland Piquepaille writes "Researchers from Purdue University working under an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) have discovered that common blue mussels are using iron found in seawater to create their own super glue. "In addition to using the knowledge to develop safer alternatives for surgical and household glues, the researchers are looking at how to combat the glue to prevent damage to shipping vessels and the accidental transport of invasive species, such as the zebra mussel that has ravaged the midwestern United States." This overview contains more details and references about this discovery. You'll also find an image of mussel glue at a magnification of 25,000X and one of a mussel adhering to a sheet of Teflon."
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Chemists Crack Secrets of Mussels' Super Glue

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  • by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:17AM (#7952220)
    Next time they try cleaning those mussels off a large ship, the ship desintegrates too. Same glue, sorry...
    • Zebra Mussels are good for cleaning water and polution. A high population of them is one of the reasons the St. Lawrence is one of the cleanest rivers in the world. I once heard a stat to the effect that they filter every galon of water in the river about every 2 or 3 days (not sure how true this is). I do know that each Zebra Mussel can filter about a quart of water per day. They are pests but they do lower water pollution levels.
  • Get these things off of me!
    • That isn't funny if you use any lake infested with these things. The reproduce very quickly, and get in the way of both the native species of our lakes, and recreation uses.

    • Only at /. would you find one wanting (apparently) surgical muscle^H^H^Hsel removal
  • Superglue or not, here in Belgium and The Netherlands millions of mussels are eaten every year ;-)

  • by lotas ( 177970 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:17AM (#7952227) Homepage Journal
    i wouldent want to get my hand stuck with that, anywhere, never mind there....
  • by da3dAlus ( 20553 ) <dustin@grau.gmail@com> on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:18AM (#7952230) Homepage Journal
    What sticks to Teflon?

    Bah, there was a punchline in there somewhere, but I think I missed it.
  • by Tebriel ( 192168 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:18AM (#7952232)
    So, the next time a lamp breaks or something, I'll just go fetch a mussel and fix it with that. Cheap and easy! Just don't tell PETA.
  • Teflon? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Since when was Teflon that leader of anti-stick materials? Put them on some salt, then we'll see who is better!

    Blogzine [blogzine.net]
  • Muscle Glue (Score:3, Funny)

    by JRHelgeson ( 576325 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:20AM (#7952250) Homepage Journal
    I grew up with "Super Glue", does this mean that the next generation will grow up with "Muscle Glue"?

    Will Muscle Glue remover cause the iron to oxidize and rust away thereby breaking apart the protein strands? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • In keeeping with the super glue aspect, doesn't the mussel hanging from the teflon look like the guy hanging from the hardhat in the super glue commercials.
      • Those aren't super glue commercials, they're for...

        Crraaaaaazzzzzyyyyy Glue!

        Strong enough to suspend this man in thin air!

        (I guess thick air is outta the question)
    • That depends (Score:5, Informative)

      by The Tyro ( 247333 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:50AM (#7952577)
      On the oxidation state of the iron molecules. The glue dissolver might have to reduce the iron in order to break the bond. Iron is commonly found in the Fe2+ and Fe3+ oxidation states. If the iron molecules are in the Fe2+ state, then you would be correct.

      There's a couple of easy mnemonics to remember the general RedOx rules:

      OLEGON (Oxidation is Loss of Electrons and Gain in Oxidation Number)
      LEO says GER (Loss of Electrons is Oxidation, Gain of Electrons is Reduction).

      There's probably others, but basic chemistry was a looong time ago for me...
    • http://www.gorillaglue.com/

      The toughest glue on planet earth. ;)

    • As someone said earlier, the final composition of the glue excludes iron. It is, however, needed for stabilizing the synthesis.

      Which is quite handy, really. All one needs to do is reduce the iron content of the water to prevent mollusks. This could be done using magnets (it is iron, after all). When buildup is critical, simply switch the magnets off and direct the iron away from the ship, where it will mix back into the water harmlessly.
  • Hey! (Score:5, Funny)

    by twoslice ( 457793 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:20AM (#7952251)
    and one of a mussel adhering to a sheet of Teflon.

    That's my dinner!

  • Why ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Krapangor ( 533950 )
    If you reduce the water amount in saliva of the mongolian veld goat then you get stuff with nearly the same properties. The goats need this to be able to eat the cacti in the desert.
    However this is known to some time now and nobody seems to care or even to use it.
  • by chrestomanci ( 558400 ) * <(david) (at) (chrestomanci.org)> on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:21AM (#7952262)
    This area of research is similar to what I did as a chemistry post graduate.

    After a bit of googling, I found the researcher's home page:
    http://www.chem.purdue.edu/Faculty/wilker.h tm

    I also found the page for his research group. Linked from it, was a more detailed description of the chemistry involved:
    http://www.chem.purdue.edu/wilker/adhes ives.htm

    Unfortunately, while I could find a number of links to actual publications in peer-reviewed chemistry journals, all where subscription sites.

  • by krog ( 25663 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:21AM (#7952271) Homepage
    When you say "super glue", most people here think of Superglue(tm), which is cyanoacrylate adhesive, not mollusk snot. Couldn't a different phrasing have been used?
  • so what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zasos ( 688522 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:22AM (#7952274) Homepage Journal
    I guess because "mussel glues present the first identified case in which transition metals are essential to the formation of a non crystalline biological material" it is interesting science... but why whoud we care?...
    I hate these press releases that don't give any specifics (e.g., strength in MPa) nor do they provide larger picture of why would we care...
    oh, well, good for mussels any way... they are tasty...
    • if we know what makes the glue, we can stop making ships out of "teflon" and start making them out of "anti-muscle-lon"

      (Disclaimer: I know most ships are not made out of teflon. And by most, I have a lil frying pan in the sink right now..sailing away in the suds.)
    • Re:so what? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fitten ( 521191 )
      Cross reference this with a lot of the discussion of nanotechnology recently... for instance the discussion of the two heads of different camps discussion recently on slashdot (not taking the time to find the link). Anyway, one of the leading guys says that nanotechnology will be built using organics, the other says by mechanics and each say the other is wrong. Anyway, understanding how and why "transition metals are essential to the formation of a non crystalline biological material" may help in the buil
  • by addie ( 470476 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:23AM (#7952282)
    You know, with this development, and all the recent talk about gecko super-tape being developed... it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. We're developing products that make structures, installations etc. more and more permanent.

    We all talk about expanding recycling programs, and cutting down on fossil fuels, but then build structures that have such highly developed components, they can never be re-used or perhaps even dismantled (without disintegration, probably releasing even more agents into the biosphere).

    Now don't get me wrong, with the right regulation and foresight, these kind of developments can be true breakthroughs. But forging ahead without considering whether an invention can be dismantled or reduced to its original components is not good engineering these days.

    But hell, my field is ancient history, what do I know...
    • by axolotl_farmer ( 465996 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:11PM (#7952812)
      You have to consider what you mean by permanent:

      A protein based glue that sticks to everything but is biodegradable, or a polymer based one that doesn't stick as good and lasts until the sun goes nova.
    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:11PM (#7952813)
      You know, with this development, and all the recent talk about gecko super-tape being developed... it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. We're developing products that make structures, installations etc. more and more permanent.

      If we used a glue that was similar to an existing organic substance it most likely would be more recyclable than the current acrylics and cyanoacrilates and such; hopefully production would produce less toxic waste, though I doubt they'll be milkng mussels for it. Conversely, making more durable products reduces obsolescence so ideally less is discarded.

    • by dexter riley ( 556126 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:08PM (#7953501)
      If I understand correctly, the ultimate goal of these studies is materials capable of "transient permanence". We could have a glue that would hold indefinitely, but releases its grip when you add a particular molecule that unties the connections. Or gecko tape that sticks with amazing tenacity, until an electric field is applied to the tape, causing the microscopic gripping "feet" to release. Or even plastics that don't exude organic volatiles, that are sturdy but can be converted to a recastable form upon command.

      Industry has already made superstable substances (like dioxins or CFCs), but by looking to biology for inspiration, we may be able to make substances whose long-term stability will reduce waste, while allowing a graceful dismantling when their usefulness has been outlived.
    • You know, with this development, and all the recent talk about gecko super-tape being developed... it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. We're developing products that make structures, installations etc. more and more permanent.

      You're absolutely right.

      Let's save the planet now! Kill all the geckos and mussels! They're destroying us!
  • DMCA (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Isn't this a violation of nature's rights? Greenpeace should sue them based on DMCA!
  • old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:23AM (#7952288)
    This was discovered by Sander Haemes 3 years ago [tudelft.nl].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:26AM (#7952324)
    actually, research has been conducted on mussels like these for at least the past 15 years. scientists were having horrible trouble producing this adhesive on their own, and could only get something remotely close by crushing thousands of mussels and extracting the adhesive from them, and still the glue would wear off sooner than expected.
    the discovery that iron contributes to the chemical structure will perhaps expedite the process of simulation and production, but there's still a long way to go. as technologically advanced as we are, we know hardly anything about how to build things on a molecular level, and even if we finally observe the chemical makeup of this glue, i believe production technology will be holding back synthesis.
  • by slashd'oh ( 234025 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:27AM (#7952339) Homepage

    More information about the zebra mussel can be found here:

    The Zebra Mussel Page [wayne.edu]

    The slide show link is informative. To quote: "Zebra mussels are a pest organism because they not only attach to one another, but also to man-made objects, including water intakes and other plumbing of water, power, and other companies that use fresh water. [snip] Zebra mussels also attach to other organisms, such as these native (North American) mussels from Lake Erie. Heavy loads of zebra mussels have killed essentially all native Unionid mussels in western Lake Erie, an early site of the zebra mussel invasion. Zebra mussels first appeared in Lake St. Clair (yellow star, north of Lake Erie), possibly from ship's ballast water from the Black Sea region. They rapidly spread downstream with the current, and upstream and to other watersheds on boats, with bait, and by other man-mediated mechanisms."

    The National Atlas website has a nice Shockwave animation illustrating the invasion between 1988 and 1999:

    Animated Map Showing Zebra Mussel Distribution [nationalatlas.gov]

    • Is there some reason why we can't turn lemons into lemonade and eat the Zebra mussels?

      I've been wondering about this since I first heard about the problem with them. Are they toxic to humans? Is there not enough meat inside to make them worth the effort? Do they taste different than other mussels?

      In short, why ain't we eating them?

      • They're small. I remember the desperate attempts to keep the zebra mussels out of Lake Ontario. When they did establish themselves, they came in droves. A single mussel is only about the size of a dime, with about an eraser head's worth of meat in them. But they die by the thousands, littering the beaches with their rotting carcasses and tons of glass sharp broken shells. Sometimes theylayer of shells and dead mussels on the beach would be 6 inches thick.
      • They're small [wayne.edu]
  • Will "mussel glue" fix broke eye glasses?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Glue in the News [thistothat.com]
  • apparently, mussel research is not an equal opportunity employer ;)
  • I can't wait for a new superhero: Mussel Man
    He has the power of muscle and glue.
    Take that Spiderman!
  • Huffing? (Score:2, Funny)

    by metallikop ( 649953 )
    But does anything happen when you huff muscle glue?
    • when you sniff aromatic and non-aromatic hydrocarbons...

      If you are one of those types that likes to sniff glue/paint (gold paint seems to be the favorite among "huffers"... due to its higher toluene content), I'd advise you to stop.

      That kind of foolishness can not only kill you quickly (by sensitizing your heart to circulating catecholamines... in laymans terms, your heart starts beating funny and you die), but also over the long-term by damaging your brain, liver, kidneys... as well as making you blind,
  • by dmd ( 404 )
    Now I have this image of vast hordes of zebra mussels stampeding across the midwestern plains....

    Or are those zebras?
    • having seen zebra mussel infestations in the great lakes, you're not too far from the truth.
      • Re:"ravaged"? (Score:4, Informative)

        by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:06PM (#7952742) Homepage Journal
        I had to live on the shore of Green Bay during the zebra mussel invasion. Billions upon billions died and washed ashore. The stench was unbelievable, and the shells formed dunes ranging from 3 to 8 feet, 60 feet out into where the water used to be, as far as you could see up and down the shoreline.

        And the little buggers are so sharp. You can't swim anymore, when you feet touch bottom the mussels cut you. It's exactly like dozens of paper cuts on the soles of your feet.
  • ...because the last thing we all need is to have weak mussels...


    Thank you, thank you, I'll be here forever...
  • by torpor ( 458 ) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:41AM (#7952483) Homepage Journal
    ... is someone to produce a super-mussel in its own shimmering vat, just pumping the stuff out for us to make our own spacecraft hulls with.

    Should be easy.

    What would be interesting is a genetically mutated mussel for ships which a) roams around sealing cracks, and b) kills all other non super-mussel mussels from the hull.

    Maybe a super ship fixing mussel with frickin' lazers on its valves? That'd rock.

    But anyway, I'm serious about the shipfixing idea. Why can't we work -with- nature instead of against it all the time, why oh why?
    • What would be interesting is a genetically mutated mussel for ships which a) roams around sealing cracks, and b) kills all other non super-mussel mussels from the hull.

      Oh, great. Some ship with one of these on it sinks, and suddenly the tectonic plate boundaries are sealed. Then what're we gonna do, huh?

      Hmmm, on second thought, no more earthquakes or volcanos or tidal waves doesn't seem like such a bad thing...

  • "This overview contains more details and references about this discovery."

    Wouldnt an overview have less details? :)
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:57AM (#7952643) Journal
    Lessee, handsome young professor, with EIGHT grad students. All coincidentally female and good looking. What are the odds of THAT? Spend a lot of time in the lab, do ya, Doc?

    http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/04/images/theteam .j pg

    I'm going to let everyone ELSE make the jokes, thanks.
  • If only (Score:3, Funny)

    by Pragmatix ( 688158 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:05PM (#7952728)
    If only we can figure out a way to sneak some of this stuff into Darl McBride's mouth.
  • NSFW? (Score:2, Funny)

    by ChilliNuts ( 718413 )
    Did anyone else see the link in the overview page entitled "NSF page" and hope for some nudy mussel pics?

    No? ... /shuffles back to fark
  • Wow (Score:4, Funny)

    by lone_marauder ( 642787 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:25PM (#7953001)
    such as the zebra mussel that has ravaged the midwestern United States.

    Those zebra mussels must be pretty badass to be growing in Nebraska cornfields.

    (yes, I know zebra mussels are a problem for inland freshwater bodies. The joke is still funny. Thank you.)
  • by sharkey ( 16670 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:35PM (#7953108)
    Whoopdedoo. When they get a guy to stick a mussel on his hat and use it to hang from a steel girder high over the city, then I'll be impressed.
    • Whoopdedoo. When they get a guy to stick a mussel on his hat and use it to hang from a steel girder high over the city, then I'll be impressed.

      Quick! Somebody call David Blaine!
  • NSF? You mean the National Secessionist Forces? I have a feeling that they didn't discover this for themselves, they probably just hijacked a shipment from UNATCO.
  • Teflon? No problem-o. Try getting anything to stick to the MS WinXP EULA [microsoft.com].

    ... ahwell, dere goes me karma den.

  • Super glue is used to glue the eyelash closed after eye surgery. It's packaged as "surgery" glue, but it's the exact same thing as common household super glue.
    • Several medical glues are used, in varying applications.

      The one I personally use the most is trade-named Dermabond... it's a superglue for skin lacerations. It's NOT the same compound as regular super glue (conventional super glue is typically cyanoacrylate). Dermabond is a bit different: it's actually butylcyanoacrylate, and has a little better stress modulus than regular super glue (a bit more flexible, not quite as brittle).

      There is also a similar compound used primarily by the orthopedic surgeons to
  • by hiryuu ( 125210 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:54PM (#7953965)

    ...at an ASC [ascouncil.org] conference a year or so ago. Very well put-together presentation - I didn't read the article (yay typical /. behavior), so I'm going by my memory of the talk and slides

    As I recall, the fella from Purdue had mentioned that the primary interest they were pursuing was to try and exploit the technology for a medical/surgical adhesive, but that a firm understanding of the chemical mechanism could be worth quite a bit to the US Navy, since estimates put fuel waste and inefficiency (due to increased drag on ships because of the molluscs attached to the hull) runs into the billions...

    (As a funny aside, this guy was probably the only talk at the conference that really got people interested. There's only so much excitement to be had in glue. :P )

  • "Mussel glues present the first identified case in which transition metals are essential to the formation of a non crystalline biological material," says NSF CAREER awardee Jonathan Wilker of Purdue University.

    I'm no NSF CAREER awardee, but a mere Chemical Engineering drop out, but I can name hemoglobine, which is not crystaline (commonly used in solution), _needs_ iron, and is quite useful for life
  • From the research page http://www.chem.purdue.edu/wilker/adhesives.htm [purdue.edu] It would appear the the iron is only involved in stabilizing the transition state responsible for crosslinking the Dopaquinone monomers. The final glue appears to be iron free. Does anyone have a better mechanism referernce?
  • Teflon (Score:3, Funny)

    by wideBlueSkies ( 618979 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @04:22PM (#7955506) Journal
    I wonder if this study could also lead into the devlopment of a better Teflon.

  • Biomicmicry (Score:3, Informative)

    by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @06:06PM (#7956499) Homepage Journal
    Janine M. Benyus in her book Biomimicry : Innovation Inspired by Nature [amazon.com] deals with the subject of mussells superglue and a host of others. It's a good read as a general intro to the work being done to derive new products and methodologies from mimicing nature.
    • David Suzuki's [sbs.com.au] series The Nature Of Things had a really interesting programme on biomimicry [www.cbc.ca] in which Janine Benyus was one of the main people interviewed.

      Parenthetically: there was a period in my life when I used to end up virtually every weekend watching daytime television while nursing the most horrible and well-deserved hang-overs. For some reason, Swedish TV chose to broadcast most of its David Suzuki shows during those hours. When hung-over, there is something oddly soothing about Suzuki's science-lit

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (3) Ha, ha, I can't believe they're actually going to adopt this sucker.