Oyster Glue Could Hold Secret to Safer Surgery

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — Researchers have discovered what makes up the cement-like adhesive that oysters use to stick together, paving the way for advances in less-harmful boat protection, medicine and construction.

Because oysters produce the adhesive to stick to one another, by understanding what the adhesive is made of, researchers can develop ways to prevent oysters from sticking to boats, develop adhesives that work in wet situations and help efforts to boost oyster populations.

A research team led by Purdue University professor Jonathan Wilker looked at the Eastern oyster, the most common type in the United States, and found that its adhesive is about 90 percent calcium carbonate, or chalk. The remaining amount is protein that is similar to the glue that mussels produce.

The researchers said the inorganic adhesive made by oysters is harder than the organic adhesives that mussels and barnacles use, making it more like cement, while the mussel adhesive is like a glue.

Knowing how oysters stick together can help understand how to keep them from sticking to boats. Current methods for keeping oysters and other species off of ships are a major expense and use toxic substances and copper-based paint, which can kill organisms' larvae.

"If we could figure out a non-toxic a way to defeat the adhesives, we could keep them off ships without harming the environment," said Wilker, who has worked on synthetic bioadhesives for more than a decade, said in a news release.

The development of adhesives that can set and hold in wet environments could also be beneficial for dentistry and medicine, where they could replace staples and sutures, leaving out the potential for infection.

The research team, funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, included Purdue graduate students Jeremy Burkett and Lauren Hight, and Paul Kenny of the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory at the University of South Carolina. The team's findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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