Sticky Feet

Patrick Mahony of CSIRO Science by Email, reports on the sticky feet of Mussels. 

Mussels need sticky feet to stay put in the one place, even when being pounded by ocean waves. Now scientists are beginning to understand how they do it.
You might not realise it, but mussels have feet, a fleshy pad to move around on. They squirt out a bunch of fibres from their foot. These fibres are covered in ‘mussel glue’, which contains a sticky chemical called DOPA.
Problem 1: DOPA isn’t usually sticky in salty sea water, and glue that isn’t sticky is pretty useless. Now, Dr Jing Yu and his colleagues from the University of California Santa Barbara discovered that mussels are able to change the sea water around them so that DOPA becomes stickier.
Problem 2: Dissolved oxygen in sea water also makes the glue less sticky. The mussel solves this by using another chemical as a shield to protect the DOPA. When these chemicals combine, they make glue that lasts underwater for years.

Synthetic DOPA glues are currently being investigated by chemists. They would have potential benefits in wet environments, such as boats, underwater pipes, and even in the human body. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know if the man-made glues are any match for those made by mussels.


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