Intestinal Bacteria, Mussels Create Super Adhesive
Intestinal bacteria working in conjunction with the underwater adhesive of mussels is on track to become the next super adhesive, but production remains limited.
Mussel Super Adhesive
Researchers based out of the Technical University of Berlin have uncovered a biotechnological process that results in the production of an underwater adhesive that mussels use to stay affixed to tidal and shelf areas of the ocean.
The mussels’ adhesive must work in both an underwater environment and in the open air, when the tide goes out.
Using threads that consist of a protein glue, the mussel can adhere to almost any surface. What makes the glue so strong is the amino acid 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine, more commonly known as DOPA.
"To create these mussel proteins, we use intestinal bacteria, which we reprogrammed," said Budisa. "They are like our chemical factory through which we produce the super glue."
During the production process, an enzyme acquired from Methanocaldococcus jannaschii was changed and introduced to the Escherichia coli, an intestinal bacterium. From there, the modified intestinal bacterium are fed the amino acid ortho-nitrobenzyl DOPA. Within this molecule, the groups that are responsible for adhesion are protected, resulting in the reprogrammed bacterium producing amino acids that are themselves covered in a protective film.
After the separation and purification of the protected adhesive protein, the proverbial protective film is removed with light that falls on a specific wavelength. This results in the activation of the adhesive points, and the protein can be used as a glue for specific targets.
Production & Looking Ahead
The production of Mussel Adhesion Proteins remains limited because the process remains inefficient and expensive, but researchers from UniCat, which is associated with TU Berlin, are working on a new development method that may lead to improvements such as increased yield and a more homogenous end result.
Two scientists working on the project plan to create a spin-off of the adhesive for different uses.
"This strategy offers new ways to produce DOPA-based wet adhesives for use in industry and biomedicine," researchers Christian Schipp and Matthias Hauf said.
The researchers plan to use the Inkulab—a spin-off laboratory of the Excellence Cluster UniCat—as well as participation in the incubation program.