It's the metal in the mussel that gives mussels their muscle power

April 8, 2009

Researchers in California are reporting for the first time that metals are key ingredients that give the coatings of anchoring byssal threads of marine mussels their amazing durability. The study could lead to the design of next-generation coatings for medical and industrial applications, including surgical coatings that protect underlying tissues from abrasion and also life-threatening bacterial infections, the researchers say. Their study appears in ACS’ Langmuir.

In the new study, Herbert Waite and colleagues point out that many existing coatings are severely limited by the materials they cover. A rubber band dipped in molten wax is a good case in point. Once hardened at room temperature, the wax is several times harder and stiffer than the underlying rubber, but even moderate extension shatters the wax. Scientists have been trying for years to develop robust coatings for soft or delicate underlying materials. Until recently, however, scientists knew little about the chemical mechanisms that allow mussels to coat the tendon-like fibers in byssal threads with a material that is both hard and extensible.

The researchers conducted a detailed chemical analysis of the protective outer of the byssus in a common species of marine mussel. They found that removing iron and calcium from the coating resulted in a 50 percent decrease in hardness, demonstrating that these metals play a key role in maintaining its integrity. Further insights could lead to the development of futuristic coatings with optimal strength and flexibility for medical and industrial applications, they note.

More information: Langmuir, “Metals and the Integrity of a Biological Coating: The Cuticle of Mussel Byssus”

Provided by American Chemical Society (news : web)

Explore further: Scientists develop life-saving chrome

Related Stories

Scientists develop life-saving chrome

September 21, 2005

British scientists have developed a safer and more versatile alternative to chrome electroplating, the coating found on vintage car bumpers, steel camshafts, and fixtures such as door furniture and light fittings.

Recommended for you

The universe's most miraculous molecule

October 9, 2015

It's the second most abundant substance in the universe. It dissolves more materials than any other solvent. It stores incredible amounts of energy. Life as we know it would not be possible without it. And although it covers ...

New method facilitates research on fuel cell catalysts

October 8, 2015

While the cleaning of car exhausts is among the best known applications of catalytic processes, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Practically the entire chemical industry relies on catalytic reactions. Therefore, catalyst ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 08, 2009
Pretty cool science, but for some reason, the article was hard to read

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.