How do mussels stick to wet rocks?

This humble mollusc's adhesive abilities are inspiring new medical materials.

16th November 2017
How do mussels stick to wet rocks? © Getty

Asked by: Chris Liddle, Poole

Hundreds of sticky threads, known as byssus, glue mussels to slippery, wave-pounded rocks. Mussels make the threads by squeezing quick-setting liquid protein into a groove in their muscly foot. The key ingredients are called ‘mussel adhesive proteins’, or MAPS, which form weak bonds with the rock. They’re being investigated as the chemical inspiration for surgical glues that would work inside living bodies, and for the production of hard-wearing, self-healing polymers to manufacture replacement hip and knee joints. Synthetic MAPs may even be used to fix anti-fouling chemicals to the bottoms of boats, to stop animals like mussels from sticking on.

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