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article imageNew underwater glue developed by MIT

By Tim Sandle     Sep 23, 2014 in Science
A team of MIT engineers have designed new waterproof adhesives that work under water, even at high pressure. These glues can be used to repair ships damaged at sea.
The new research was inspired by the natural processes of shellfish like mussels and barnacles. These creatures secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls.
To create the new waterproof glues, scientists genetically engineered bacteria to produce a material that incorporates naturally sticky mussel proteins (called mussel foot proteins) as well as a bacterial protein found in biofilms. When combined, these proteins form a strong underwater adhesive. A biofilm refers to the sticky substance excreted by some bacteria that allow them to adhere to materials, such as the pipes leading to a kitchen sink. The bacterial material includes something called curli fibers. These fibers help bacteria attach to surfaces.
Interviewed by Controlled Environments, lead researcher Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), said: “The ultimate goal for us is to set up a platform where we can start building materials that combine multiple different functional domains together and to see if that gives us better materials performance.”
To test the binding power of the new glue, the scientists used a technique called atomic force microscopy. The result was a success: now only is the glue waterproof, it is incredibly strong.
Another potential application for the glue is in surgery. Where blood and protein residues are present, sealing wounds can be difficult. Potentially the new glue will not be affected in this way.
At present, the scientists can only produce the adhesive in small quantities. The long term aim is to find a way to mass produce the adhesive on a larger scale. The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
The findings have been reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The paper is headed “Strong underwater adhesives made by self-assembling multi-protein nanofibres.”
More about Glue, adhesive, Underwater, Boats
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