Oyster Glue Reveals Elusive 'Ingredients'

  An oyster reef in the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory on the South Carolina coast
In a discovery with potentially far-reaching implications, researchers at the Purdue University have discovered the ingredients that oysters use to produce the glue which keeps them together.

In a discovery with potentially far-reaching implications, researchers at the Purdue University have discovered the ingredients that oysters use to produce the glue which keeps them together.

The team that made the findings included experts from many research institutions and universities, but the work was coordinated from Purdue.

Determining the chemicals inside the adhesive produced by oysters has been a long-standing goal for science, given the elusive nature of the substance. Many have tried and fail to discover its secrets.

The new discovery could have significant implications for the boating industry, fisheries, and also for the field of medicine.

The fact that oysters can stick together is one of their main abilities, and conservation experts are convinced that, by unlocking the secret to their glue, they may be able to devise better protection plans.

At this time, the global oyster population is dwindling, and numerous plans are underway to ensure that it survives the coming decades. Global warming and excessive culling are the main threats it must face.

Experts say that being able to tell the chemicals making up oyster glue apart is also of paramount importance for the shipping industry.

Several species of the marine creature can affix themselves to ship's hulls, creating layers of contamination that increase drag, and therefore fuel consumption. They also damage the metal.

The shipping industry loses millions of dollars yearly on account of this biofouling, and so the new work could be used to set the basis for new materials, that will not allow oysters to attach.

“With a description of the oyster cement in hand, we may gain strategies for developing synthetic materials that mimic the shellfish's ability to set and hold in wet environments,” explains Purdue professor of chemistry and materials engineering Jonathan Wilker.

“Dentistry and medicine may benefit from such a material. For instance, it would be great to have a surgical adhesive that could replace staples and sutures, which puncture healthy tissue and create potential sites for infection,” adds the expert, who has been working in this field for a decade.

“The oyster cement appears to be harder than the substances mussels and barnacles use for sticking to rocks. The adhesives produced by mussels and barnacles are mostly made of proteins, but oyster adhesive is about 90 percent calcium carbonate, or chalk,” the team leader adds.

“On its own, chalk is not sticky. So the key to oyster adhesion may be a unique combination of this hard, inorganic component with the remaining 10 percent of the material that is protein,” he explains.

“The adhesive material differed significantly in composition from the shell, which indicates that the oyster produces a chemically distinct substance for sticking together,” Wilker concludes.

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By    21 Sep 2010, 09:38 GMT