Science

New discovery could pave the way for glues that stick like barnacles

New discovery could pave the w...
A barnacle-encrusted camera found by Gizmag writer Ben Coxworth
A barnacle-encrusted camera found by Gizmag writer Ben Coxworth
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A barnacle-encrusted camera found by Gizmag writer Ben Coxworth
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A barnacle-encrusted camera found by Gizmag writer Ben Coxworth

If you place pretty much any type of solid material in the ocean, barnacles will firmly attach themselves to it. If you were to try applying a glue to any of those materials while they were underwater, however, it likely wouldn't stick. So, what do barnacles know that we don't? Scientists have recently discovered the answer, and it could lead to advances in human technologies.

For some time now, it's been known that when free-swimming barnacle larvae decide to secure themselves to a surface (and subsequently become the crusty barnacles that we know), they do so by secreting two liquids. It was assumed that these two substances mixed together to form one bioadhesive, sort of like the two-part epoxies found in hardware stores.

An international team led by scientists from Newcastle University in the UK have observed that that isn't the case, however.

By studying barnacle larvae using imaging techniques such as 2-photon microscopy, they discovered that the adhesion process begins with a droplet of one of the liquids – an oil – being secreted onto the surface to repel and displace water from it. The other liquid, which is a phosphoprotein adhesive, is then secreted in the same area and is easily able to stick to the surface.

The researchers now hope that their newfound knowledge could be used to develop things like medical adhesives, which could conceivably be used to glue implants in place within the body. Additionally, now that they better understand barnacles' adhesion process, they may be able to devise more effective methods of keeping the organisms from accumulating on the hulls of ships and other areas where they cause problems.

Previous studies have shown that mussel-inspired adhesives could have similar applications.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Newcastle University

3 comments
f8lee
I remember an episode of the 70's TV Series "The Odd Couple" where Oscar's dentist had created a glue made from barnacles (that naturally failed during their big presentation to the glue company owners due to Oscar's mouth going dry)... wouldn't it be funny if it comes full circle?
anobium
I remember some dental researchers working on barnacles to make an adhesive dental filling. I wonder whether they made any progress?
nutcase
Humans have known the secret of crustacea and mollusc adhesion for millenia. Here is a typical company exploiting the "secret"": http://www.cockburncementcommunity.com.au/environment/marine/dredging/