For years, scientists seeking stronger glues have been looking to nature for inspiration, trying to figure out what keeps barnacles anchored on rocks and how geckos climb effortlessly up walls. All that attention to mimicking adhesives may be missing the whole picture, though, according to a study that finds that when it comes to mussels rooted to rocks or boat hulls, the strength of the glue is only part of the story.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were initially interested in the adhesive patches that mussels use to anchor themselves, even in rough surf. The glue turns out to use an elegant, simple mechanism to adhere -- it is made up of proteins that form bonds like the ones found in water molecules. But by itself, the glue didn’t appear to be strong enough to account for mussels’ tenacity and ability to stick to surfaces.