New discovery could pave the way for glues that stick like barnacles


July 18, 2014

A barnacle-encrusted camera found by Gizmag writer Ben Coxworth

A barnacle-encrusted camera found by Gizmag writer Ben Coxworth

If you place pretty much any type of solid material in the ocean, barnacles will firmly attach themselves to it. If you were to try applying a glue to any of those materials while they were underwater, however, it likely wouldn't stick. So, what do barnacles know that we don't? Scientists have recently discovered the answer, and it could lead to advances in human technologies.

For some time now, it's been known that when free-swimming barnacle larvae decide to secure themselves to a surface (and subsequently become the crusty barnacles that we know), they do so by secreting two liquids. It was assumed that these two substances mixed together to form one bioadhesive, sort of like the two-part epoxies found in hardware stores.

An international team led by scientists from Newcastle University in the UK have observed that that isn't the case, however.

By studying barnacle larvae using imaging techniques such as 2-photon microscopy, they discovered that the adhesion process begins with a droplet of one of the liquids – an oil – being secreted onto the surface to repel and displace water from it. The other liquid, which is a phosphoprotein adhesive, is then secreted in the same area and is easily able to stick to the surface.

The researchers now hope that their newfound knowledge could be used to develop things like medical adhesives, which could conceivably be used to glue implants in place within the body. Additionally, now that they better understand barnacles' adhesion process, they may be able to devise more effective methods of keeping the organisms from accumulating on the hulls of ships and other areas where they cause problems.

Previous studies have shown that mussel-inspired adhesives could have similar applications.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Newcastle University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I remember an episode of the 70's TV Series "The Odd Couple" where Oscar's dentist had created a glue made from barnacles (that naturally failed during their big presentation to the glue company owners due to Oscar's mouth going dry)... wouldn't it be funny if it comes full circle?


I remember some dental researchers working on barnacles to make an adhesive dental filling. I wonder whether they made any progress?


Humans have known the secret of crustacea and mollusc adhesion for millenia. Here is a typical company exploiting the "secret"":

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