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Start-Up Developing Marine Bio-Inspired Super Glue

Mussels

Mussels (Joyce May, Pixabay)

11 Mar. 2020. A new enterprise is creating an strong binding adhesive inspired by mussels, derived from research in a university chemistry and materials science lab. Mussel Polymers Inc. is developing the super glue based on the work of chemistry and materials science professor Jonathan Wilker at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Wilker’s lab studies natural chemicals and processes from marine environments to find materials solving practical problems, and in some cases mimic their properties in new synthetic materials. One of those sea creatures is the mussel, a shell fish that attaches to rocks with ease, and stays adhered under almost all conditions. Yet, most commercial adhesives for home or industrial use fail to stick reliably on wet surfaces.

The Purdue researchers identified an amino acid in mussels called DOPA — short for 3, 4-dihdroxyphenylalanine — that binds with iron atoms to form the strong cross-linked bond used by mussels and other shell fish. Wilker and colleagues developed a polymer known as poly(catechol-styrene), or PCS, that mimics the bonding mechanism of DOPA, and is non-toxic. In a 2017 paper, the researchers found, “Poly(catechol-styrene) may be the strongest underwater adhesive found to date. Bonding even exceeded that of the reference biological system, live mussels.”

Purdue’s technology transfer office licensed the super glue technology to Wardenclyffe Chemicals Inc., a three year-old technology development company in Princeton, New Jersey. Wardenclyffe acquires the rights to promising research discoveries, and forms companies with initial financing to take the discoveries to market. One of those companies is Mussel Polymers to develop PCS into a commercial product.

Further studies with PCS show the adhesive creates stronger bonds than most epoxies and glues designed for dry binding, as well as underwater applications. Wardenclyffe identifies several markets for PCS, notably military, consumer, biomedical, cosmetics, wood working, offshore oil and gas, and even restoring corals. The company recently received an early-stage Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to study the technical and commercial feasibility of PCS for coral repair.

George Boyajian, CEO of Wardenclyffe, is also serving for now as Mussel Polymers’ CEO, with Wilker as the company’s lead scientist. “We have been studying sea creatures, how they stick, and designing synthetic mimics of these materials,” says Wilker in a Purdue University statement. “There is potential here to impact several industries, including products that people use in their daily lives.”

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