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Mussels -- material artists with grip
Date:3/4/2010

modification of the amino acid tyrosine known commonly as dopa. Dopa is found at high concentrations in the main cuticle component, mussel foot protein-1 (mfp-1). Dopa is distinguished from typical amino acids due to its impressive affinity for complexing with transition metal ions, particularly iron. As Admir Masic, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces who worked on the project, explains, "when 2-3 dopa residues complex with a single iron ion, they create an incredibly stable complex that can be utilized to cross-link structural proteins." These metal-protein complexes have a high breaking force (nearly half that of covalent bonds), but unlike covalent bonds they are reversibly breakable, making them ideal for creating sacrificial cross-links.

Cuticle is stabilized by dopa-iron complexes

Using a technique known as in situ Raman spectroscopy to probe the chemical composition of the cuticle, the researchers provided the first direct evidence that the cuticle is a protein-based polymeric scaffold stabilized by dopa-iron complexes. Moreover, it was discovered that the distribution of dopa-iron complexes is clustered, with areas of high density coinciding with the granular inclusions and low density with the inter-granular matrix. These observations, coupled with previous mechanical observations suggest that the densely cross-linked granules function as hard inclusions and the less cross-linked matrix functions in a sacrificial manner, allowing bonds to break prior to catastrophic failure.

"Nature has evolved an elegant solution to a problem that engineers are still struggling with; namely, how to combine the properties of abrasion resistance and high extensibility in the same material", says Peter Fratzl, director of the biomaterials department at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces. Apparently, the cuticle achieves this through a careful tailoring of protein-metal chemistry and the subm
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Contact: Matthew Harrington
Matt.Harrington@mpikg.mpg.de
49-331-567-9429
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert

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