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J Polym Sci B Polym Phys. 2011 Jun;49(11):757-771.

Natural Underwater Adhesives.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112.


The general topic of this review is protein-based underwater adhesives produced by aquatic organisms. The focus is on mechanisms of interfacial adhesion to native surfaces and controlled underwater solidification of natural water-borne adhesives. Four genera that exemplify the broad range of function, general mechanistic features, and unique adaptations are discussed in detail: blue mussels, acorn barnacles, sandcastle worms, and freshwater caddisfly larva. Aquatic surfaces in nature are charged and in equilibrium with their environment, populated by an electrical double layer of ions as well as adsorbed natural polyelectrolytes and microbial biofilms. Surface adsorption of underwater bioadhesives likely occurs by exchange of surface bound ligands by amino acid sidechains, driven primarily by relative affinities and effective concentrations of polymeric functional groups. Most aquatic organisms exploit modified amino acid sidechains, in particular phosphorylated serines and hydroxylated tyrosines (dopa), with high-surface affinity that form coordinative surface complexes. After delivery to the surfaces as a fluid, permanent natural adhesives solidify to bear sustained loads. Mussel plaques are assembled in a manner superficially reminiscent of in vitro layer-by-layer strategies, with sequentially delivered layers associated through Fe(dopa)(3) coordination bonds. The adhesives of sandcastle worms, caddisfly larva, and barnacles may be delivered in a form somewhat similar to in vitro complex coacervation. Marine adhesives are secreted, or excreted, into seawater that has a significantly higher pH and ionic strength than the internal environment. Empirical evidence suggests these environment triggers could provide minimalistic, fail-safe timing mechanisms to prevent premature solidification (insolubilization) of the glue within the secretory system, yet allow rapid solidification after secretion. Underwater bioadhesives are further strengthened by secondary covalent curing.

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