Mussels are pretty popular, aren’t they? We can steam them in white wine and garlic or add them to our seafood paella. Chemists, interestingly enough, also love mussels and have been working for years with this seemingly simple, yet complex bivalve. A mussel is an animal typically found in high energy coastal areas, and because of these conditions, they have a particular adaptation that scientists find extremely interesting. To prevent itself from being swept away by waves and continue filter feeding in these rich habitats, the mussel will secrete byssus threads and attach itself to a sturdy, non-moving object like a rock. Now these byssus threads are incredibly strong, flexible, self-healing, physically hard, and essentially work like glue underwater! The particular substances produced by the mussel, the ratios in which they are mixed, and the patterns of how they are secreted are what scientists are trying to replicate. According to researchers, synthesized versions of these threads can be used as surgical sutures, materials for underwater attachments, or as part of equipment used in extreme conditions. In other words these animals can be used as much more than a delicious appetizer.
Another amazing animal that researchers have been occupied with are horseshoe crabs. The copper-based blood of horseshoe crabs has been critically important to the biomedical industry for years now. We use a certain substance from their blood to test the sterility of our medicines. If bacteria are present in an antibiotic, then the substance will coagulate with the bacterial toxins when mixed with the medicine and the test subject will be proven non-sterile and unable to use. So the next time you see a horseshoe crab, make sure you thank it for helping keep our medicines and medical equipment safe and clean.
Even the military is taking a page out of Mother Nature’s handbook. The U.S. Navy spends tens of millions of dollars each year removing fouling organisms, such as barnacles, from the bottoms of their ships because they cause damage and increase drag. To help solve this problem the Navy has supported research to create anti-fouling coatings, and to do this, researchers have turned to sharks. Sharks have teeth-like scales covering their skin that not only help reduce drag but also prevent organisms from sticking and growing on them. Therefore researchers are attempting to mimic shark skin and the dynamics of the scales to help reduce bio-fouling.
Mussels, horseshoe crabs, and sharks are not the only amazing living organisms out there that scientists are mimicking, which begs the questions, “What else can we learn? What other awesome things are scientists doing right now?” Learn more about different nature inspired technologies!