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Sticky proteins serve as glue: blue mussel


Mussels / Sarah Nuehri.. / LicenseCC-by-nc-sa - Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike

Byssus threads of the blue mussel attach to a wet, solid surface due to catechols on adhesive proteins that overcome the surface’s affinity for water molecules.

Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) – bivalves that attach to rocks in wave-battered intertidal seashores – produce adhesives comparable in strength to human-made glues but without carcinogens such as formaldehyde and which can cure under water.

A key feature of the blue mussel’s unique adhesive chemistry is the presence of the amino acid 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine, with its reactive catechol functional group (two hydroxyl groups sticking out from a benzene ring) that forms strong bonds with catechols on adjacent molecules and with metal atoms present in the surface of most natural solid substrates. Another key feature is the ability of catechol chains to overcome a solid surface's otherwise strong preference for water molecules (which is why conventional adhesives fail on wet surfaces).

New mussel-inspired adhesives, which have wide-ranging applications from surgical to wood composites, currently use soy as an inexpensive, accessible feedstock, and work by blocking certain amino acids in soy proteins that are not present in mussel proteins, such as glutamic acid, so that the resulting compound bears a closer resemblance to that of mussel proteins.
"Pounding waves are no match for the mighty mussel, that produces strong, flexible threads that cling to rocks…mussels secrete a unique amino acid called dihydroxyphenylalanine…Researchers have developed a new group of adhesives for wood products inspired by the ability of mussels to cling to rocks using thread-like tentacles. These threads are proteins that retain powerful adhesive properties even in water.” (ScienceDaily 2005)
About the inspiring organism
Med_blue_mussel_mytilus_edulis blue mussel
Mytilus edulis Linnaeus, 1758
Common names: edible blue mussel, Common mussel

Habitat(s): Marine Intertidal
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Adhesive that works underwater or on wet surfaces and is not water soluble. Adhesive that works without formaldehyde, reducing exposure of workers, the public, and the environment to a recognized human carcinogen.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Construction, manufacturing

Department of Wood Science and Engineering
Kaiching Li
Oregon State University
Messersmith Research Group
Phillip B. Messersmith
Biomedical Engineering Department, Northwestern University
2005. Wood Glue Inspired by Mussels: Chemist's Glue Borrows Unique Amino Acid from Mollusk. Science Daily LLC.
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Lee, Haeshin; Dellatore, Shara M.; Miller, William M.; Messersmith, Phillip B. 2007. Mussel-Inspired Surface Chemistry for Multifunctional Coatings. Science. 318(5849): 426-430.
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over 4 years ago
It is listed. See the link to it farther down on the strategy page.
over 4 years ago
why isn't PureBond plywood technology (Columbia Forest Products) listed on here? This is one of the important applications of this soy-based, mussel-inspired, formaldehyde-free technology referenced in this entry.
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