Many different sea creatures, particularly those of the seashore shelled variety, have the ability to permanently stick themselves to various structures in order to achieve a stable method of living and feeding. This also helps to prevent the less desirable events of being washed out to sea or dashed on rocks.
The goose barnacle, Lepas anatifera, appears to have evolved a unique system for producing sticky adhesive, which at the molecular and structural level is quite different from other marine organisms, such as the mussel or the tubeworm. In the goose barnacle, just a single large cell in the peduncle (the foot that grabs onto the rock) produces the different components of the glue, which is made up of more than 10 different proteins. These are stored in specialised secretory pockets that open onto a large canal, down which the glue travels when it needs to be exuded. When the glue reaches the point where the canal opens onto the outside world, the glue polymerises and hardens; this process can proceed in the open air and under salt water. Currently, questions still remain about how the glue is maintained in a liquid state within the canal (rather than prematurely hardening, which would lead to a fairly unpleasant death), and how the glue, once deployed, undergoes the hardening process.
This work will undoubtedly have important and exciting future implications in the development of new medical adhesives for use in ‘wet’ environments.
Read the original research article here.
Jonker JL, von Byern J, Flammang P, Klepal W, & Power AM (2012). Unusual adhesive production system in the barnacle Lepas anatifera: An ultrastructural and histochemical investigation. Journal of morphology, 273 (12), 1377-91 PMID: 22911953