One of the most exciting avenues of biomimecry is it’s application in practicality. The emergence of hydrophobic surfaces that create self-cleaning building envelopes is one example of this. Imagine if this surface were applied to cars – all of a sudden I would be SO EXCITED to be caught driving in a rainstorm. ‘Why thank you, Mother Nature, for that wonderful car wash.’
Water-resistant adhesives are another example of one of those little things that make a big difference. The Caulobacter Crescentus is a bacteria that lives in aquatic environments, and secretes a sticky substance that is one of the world’s strongest glues. The adhesive sticking power “approaches 70 Newton/mm2”, or in other words, is strong enough that “a quarter size patch could conceivably suspend a 5-ton elephant.” (1) That is crazy!! Why does this little being produce something so strong? Because the cell is so small, it is advantageous that it can stick itself onto a surface, otherwise it will have little to no control of where it’s tiny little body will float off to in the vast ocean. What does this mean for us? The strength of this cell’s adhesive can be used in everyday industrial applications, such as medicine, construction, and of course aquatic infrastructure.
Another example of water-resistant adhesives is the case of the blue mussel. Dr. Kaichang Li, a chemist at Oregon State University, was curious about the mussel’s uncanny ability to bond to rocks. After studying their adhesive properties, he found what he believed to be the answer, however this would have been an expensive application and therefore likely not successful for mass production. He continued research by manipulating different, more abundant and cheap chemical compositions, and found that he could create a very close copy using soy proteins. This breakthrough is remarkable, as it replaced formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) in the gluing of composite woods, and thus reduced the emission of hazardous air pollutants.
Why do we want to replace other glues, anyways? Not only do these glues have the potential for more strength, they are also healthier. A lot of the everyday products that we use release toxins that are harmful to our health, and glue is just one of those things. Besides, we always love new products – especially if they are better for you.