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"Mussel Bond" -- The Discovery Files

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A nontoxic glue modeled after adhesive proteins produced by mussels and other creatures has been found to outperform commercially available products, pointing toward potential surgical glues to replace sutures and staples.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Stick with what you know.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: underwater sounds) Say you're a sea mussel. Hangin', chillin'. With all the forces around, you're staying put, clinging to that (Sound effect: waves) rock, (Sound effect: bell) dock or million-dollar yacht (Sound effect: ship horn) thanks to a protein you produce that contains 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine* or DOPA. As a mussel, you don't have to pronounce it, just know it works.

Researchers at Purdue University know it works, too. If a mussel can produce a natural adhesive that sticks underwater, they wondered, maybe DOPA can be part of a next-gen biomedical glue -- one surgeons can use in place of sutures or staples (Sound effect: staple gun) -- even in the wet environment inside our bodies.

(Sound effect: wet, drippy sounds) Most adhesives don't work well in moist environments because water interferes with the adhesion process. A tough challenge. But glues for medical applications also have to be nontoxic and biocompatible. A combination of requirements that leaves current medical glues stuck.

The Purdue team created a new adhesive that contains elastin -- a highly elastic protein found in human connective tissue. The adhesive's not toxic to cells and works well under dry conditions. Modified with DOPA, it also provides the strongest bonds of any engineered protein when used underwater. (Sound effect: sound of surf, waves)

You could say they've given adhesives some 'mussel.'

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