Mussels are delicious for lunch but when else can they do? MIT researchers led by Timothy Lu, as associate professor of biological engineering and EECS (electrical engineering and computer science), have created a way to develop waterproof adhesives stronger than anything found in nature.
Previously, bacteria have been engineered to produce mussel foot proteins. Lu and his team wanted to take this research one step further by engineering bacteria that can produce foot proteins along with curli fibers. Curli fibers are a bacterial protein that clump together and generate large complex meshes.
In this study, bacteria were engineered to produce curli fibers bonded to one of two types of mussel foot proteins. These products were purified and set aside to incubate. This allowed the protein products to form into complex meshes that could bind strongly to either dry or wet surfaces. This adhesive could be used for a variety of purposes because of its ability to bind to wet surfaces like reconnecting skin after surgery instead of nasty staples or stiches. Also it could be used to stop leaks from the bottom of boats or the leak on my showerhead that makes it spray water everywhere. Hopefully it’s available soon.
Unique adaptations developed through an organism’s evolution can be borrowed and inspire genetic design. Lu says, “A lot of underwater organisms need to be able to stick to things, so they make all sorts of different types of adhesives that you might be able to borrow from.” The natural world will serve as a strong inspiration for the growing field of synthetic biology. As our genetic engineering abilities continue to advance, the natural world will serve as a template for synthetic designs.
To learn more about Timothy Lu and his other research projects click here.