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« เมื่อ: เมษายน 24, 2007, 11:06:17 AM »

Source: Journal & Courier  World News    23/04/2007 16:48:21

 
 Researcher looks to natural systems for answers


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An online search for seafood recipes or a trip to your local seafaring restaurant will give you a number of options for using the common blue mussel.

 

This bluish, pear-shaped mollusk is a delectable treat for many and has been since 6,000 B.C. They are efficient water filters, with each three-inch mussel filtering around 10 to 15 gallons of water each day.

 

The blue mussel can be fished in the wild or farmed in coastal coves. The annual global harvest of the mussel is around 500,000 tons with 80 percent originating from commercial farms. The shell of the mussel, in its pulverized form, is used to add calcium and increase the pH of a soil.

 

Current research at Purdue is also making use of the blue mussel, this time for its natural adhesive properties.

 

Jonathan Wilker is a professor in the chemistry department at Purdue who has developed a research program that takes its cues from nature. His lab is looking at the binding capabilities that mussels exhibit when attaching to the ocean floor in hopes of applying them to surgical applications for closing internal wounds.

 

The foot of the mussel exudes a substance that allows it to bind to a host of different surfaces such as glass and even Teflon. The adhesives that a mussel uses are made up of a number of proteins that contain a specific amino acid, called DOPA.

 

Wilker's lab has extracted these proteins from the mussels and reacted them with different substances to find those mixtures that have the best binding capabilities. They have found that the addition of iron to these proteins generates the best adhesive properties. The mussel's adhesive proteins contain a high iron content, around 1 million times that found in the ocean.

 

Wilker believes that the iron in the ocean reacts with the mussel-released proteins and helps to bind them together by a process called chelation. Each iron ion is able to bind three protein strands and promote cross-linking, a mechanism that is also used to create many of the tough plastics used today. This creates the strong tether that prevents the mussel from floating away.

 

Wilker's lab is now applying the information from the mussel to the development of better adhesives. As Wilker puts it, "We're starting out by characterizing a natural system and now we're incorporating what we learned into synthetic versions that we make ... synthetic versions that are simpler, that we can make on a much larger scale."

 

His lab is replacing the complex proteins of the mussel adhesive with other synthetic molecules, similar to those used in plastics, which still contain the specific chemical components important in the binding properties observed in the mussel.

 

Looking to natural systems as a basis for solving current problems is an advantageous approach because these systems have proven successful by the fact that they have been around for centuries. Wilker's research is important because it provides a link between nature and current technology to create something new and better that can improve our livelihood.

 

Jason de Koff is a doctoral student in the agronomy department at Purdue University.
 

Source or related URL: http://www.jconline.com
 
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