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 stabilised method of living and feeding, in addition to helping 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 type in the peduncle is responsible for producing the different glue components (10+ distinct proteins), which are stored in specialised secretory pockets that open onto a large canal, down which the glue travels when it needs to be exuded for sticky purposes. Only when the glue reaches the point where the canal opens into the outside world do polymerisation and hardening occur; this process can proceed both 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 an unpleasant death), and how the glue, once deployed into the outside world, undergoes the hardening process.
The continuance of this work will no doubt have 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