Over a 150 years since it was first described by Darwin, scientists are finally uncovering the secrets behind the super strength of barnacle glue.
Still far better than anything we have been able to develop synthetically, barnacle glue – or cement - sticks to any surface, under any conditions.
But exactly how this superglue of superglues works has remained a mystery – until now.
An international team of scientists led by Newcastle University, UK, and funded by the US Office of Naval Research, have shown for the first time that barnacle larvae release an oily droplet to clear the water from surfaces before sticking down using a phosphoprotein adhesive.
Publishing their findings this week in the prestigious academic journal Nature Communications, author Dr Nick Aldred says the findings could pave the way for the development of novel synthetic bioadhesives for use in medical implants and micro-electronics. The research will also be important in the production of new anti-fouling coatings for ships.
Thoracian barnacles rely heavily upon their ability to adhere to surfaces and are environmentally and economically important as biofouling pests. Their adhesives have unique attributes that define them as targets for bio-inspired adhesive development. With the aid of multi-photon and broadband coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering microscopies, we report that the larval adhesive of barnacle cyprids is a bi-phasic system containing lipids and phosphoproteins, working synergistically to maximize adhesion to diverse surfaces under hostile conditions. Lipids, secreted first, possibly displace water from the surface interface creating a conducive environment for introduction of phosphoproteins while simultaneously modulating the spreading of the protein phase and protecting the nascent adhesive plaque from bacterial biodegradation. The two distinct phases are contained within two different granules in the cyprid cement glands, implying far greater complexity than previously recognized. Knowledge of the lipidic contribution will hopefully inspire development of novel synthetic bioadhesives and environmentally benign antifouling coatings.