If you've ever scoured tide pools looking for the many odd creatures that the ocean brings in, then you've probably encountered wild mussels, and you know just how strongly they can adhere to rocks. Now scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out how to produce a similar super-sticky glue in the lab that's even stronger than nature's version, reports Business Standard.

The new glue is partly composed of lab-produced mussel foot proteins, but also includes a bacterial protein found in slimy biofilms. The hybrid goo is extra sticky, and much like the glue produced by mussels, it retains its adhesive qualities underwater.

"The ultimate goal for us is to set up a platform where we can start building materials that combine multiple different functional domains together and to see if that gives us better materials performance," said Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering.

The sticky material could be particularly useful as a waterproof glue for repairing ships, but it might also be useful in medicine too as a way to seal or heal wounds

Lu's team artificially created the glue in the lab by engineering bacteria to produce two different foot proteins, combined with bacterial proteins called curli fibers, which are fibrous proteins that can clump together and assemble themselves into much larger and more complex meshes. After letting the proteins clump together, the resultant material had a flexible structure that binded strongly to both dry and wet surfaces. In fact, the material was found to bind even more strongly to surfaces than naturally occurring mussel adhesives.

"The result is a powerful wet adhesive with independently functioning adsorptive and cohesive moieties," explained Herbert Waite, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was not part of the research team.

Since the substance was so successful in tests — it was found to be the strongest biologically inspired, protein-based underwater adhesive reported to date — scientists are optimistic that further study can lead to the development of even stronger glues.

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Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Shellfish-inspired protein glue even sticks underwater
A lab-created substance composed partly of mussel foot proteins is even stickier than the adhesive used by real mussels.