Mussels' Mighty Grip Inspires Dopamine-Based Glue

October 18, 2007

The uncanny stickiness of mussels has inspired a brainy new approach to creating a universal adhesive coating, researchers say.

Mussels secrete a complex cocktail of proteins to latch on to just about any surface, explained study co-author Phillip Messersmith, a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

(Related: "Gecko, Mussel Powers Combined in New Sticky Adhesive" [July 18, 2007].)

Messersmith and colleagues found that the two most prominent ingredients in this cocktail are the same as those in dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain.

So the researchers wanted to find out if they could use dopamine to make an adhesive coating that matches the mussels' natural stickiness.

First they added a drop of pure dopamine to a beaker of water that had the same acidity as seawater.

In this solution the dopamine molecules went through chemical changes that caused them to link together and form new, larger molecules known as polymers.

This so-called polydopamine substance was remarkably sticky, the researchers found. Any object put in the new solution got coated with a thin, adhesive film.

"It pretty much worked well on just about any material that we tried," Messersmith said. "It is really tremendously simple."

The results appear this week in the journal Science.

Changing Coats

The researchers found that the dopamine-based glue could be used to make a variety of additional materials stick to objects, creating a host of functional applications.

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