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"Sticky Thicket" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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English ivy's natural glue might hold the key to new approaches to wound healing, stronger armor for the military and maybe even cosmetics with better staying power.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Rise of the 'cling-ons.'

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

(Sound effect: birds, suburban neighborhood) Ivy climbing up the side of your house. Looks pretty. But just try to pull it free. (Sound effect: sproing!) While it may feel as if it's taken root, it's actually being held by what amounts to natural super glue. This ultra-strong adhesive caught the attention of researchers at Ohio State University.

By studying the substance at a molecular level, the team sought to unlock its secrets. Using an atomic-force microscope, they looked at ivy's glue and found spherical nanoparticles rich in proteins with amazing adhesive abilities.

When they investigated further, they found the driving force behind the curing of the glue: an interaction between the proteins and pectin in the gelatinous liquid that oozes from ivy as it climbs. It creates one of the strongest bonds in nature -- (Sound effect: slashing at vines) which I could have guessed fighting the vines on my parents' house.

The researchers used the nanoparticles to make a simple glue that mimics ivy's adhesive. Of course, advanced biomedical or industrial applications will require more time and research. Anything from new approaches to wound-healing to stronger military armor, or possibly cosmetics with better staying power.

So now you know what puts the cling in the vine. That's my story and I'm (Sound effect: rustles script) sticking to it.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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