Scientists have created a soluble, self-healing glue that works underwater, based on the natural properties of the common mussel, a favoured delicacy of seafood lovers. Jim Drury reports.
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~**NONE*~ The common mussel is one of the most popular seafoods. But while alive, the shellfish has a remarkable ability to stick to anything, even underwater. Scientists from Denmark and the United States have copied the chemical composition of a natural glue found in the mussel's Byssus - threads positioned on the shell's exterior. Researcher Marie Krogsgaard, from Aarhus University's iNANO centre, says their creation could have important medical implications. SOUNDBITE (English) MARIE KROGSGAARD, PHD RESEARCHER AT AARHUS UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "One application could be surgery, glue for surgery, because in the body we have a wet environment, so an aqueous medium, and that is very similar to seawater." Current surgical glues either aren't strong enough to heal properly or release toxic formaldehyde, so can't be used inside patients. This replica glue contains an amino acid called DOPA, which has the ability to self-heal, opening up many possible uses. SOUNDBITE (English) MARIE KROGSGAARD, PHD RESEARCHER AT AARHUS UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "It is a viscoelastic, meaning that it has mechanical properties within the classical extremes of an ideal liquid and an ideal solid, so it's something in between and in addition to that it has these very nice self-healing properties, so you imagine that you could coat the surface of your car with this self-healing material and then if you form a crack it will just disappear if you wait." After being poured into any cracks that require filling, the liquid becomes a strong adhesive gel that sticks firm. Associate Professor Henrik Birkedal warns that trials on humans are still some way off. SOUNDBITE (English) HENRIK BIRKEDAL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT AARHUS UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We've done a test where we went to the butcher and bought a steak and tried to glue it together, but this of course is not good enough for actual real life testing, in humans eventually. So what we need to do next is to develop it to a stage where we can take it into a medical laboratory and try to do animal experiments on mice first." The scientists can also control the colour of the glue, making it useful in mechanical applications, as well as healing facial wounds.