The fibrous threads helping mussels stay anchored in spite of waves that sometimes pound the shore with a force equivalent to a jet liner flying at 600 miles per hour are more prone to snap when ocean temperatures climb higher than normal.
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston, Emily Carrington, a University of Washington professor of biology, reported that the fibrous threads she calls "nature's bungee cords" become 60 percent weaker in water that was 15 degrees F (7 C) above typical summer temperatures where the mussels were from.
"Conditions that harm mussel populations affect commercial growers and, because mussels are at the foundation of the marine food web, also deprive predators such as crabs, lobsters and sea anemones of food," Carrington said.
Such research might one day help natural resources managers in Washington, where Carrington's work was done, and elsewhere estimate future abundance correctly and recognize areas with conditions most favorable to mussel survival. It might lead commercial growers to breed resistant varieties or be on the lookout to invest in the most promising locations for the future.
Carrington was the sole environmental biologist on a panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on how to develop adhesives similar to mussels.
"Certainly spider silk is the darling of the biomaterials world because of its high strength. But the spotlight is getting brighter for mussels because they make strong, tough, durable attachments that can set underwater," Carrington said.
"What biologists can contribute to the materials science arena is an appreciation of biodiversity," she said. "Mussels live in all kinds of habitats. Some species are experts at gluing onto sea grass, some to other shells, some even adhere in the harsh conditions of hydrothermal vents. They each may have different genes that code for different
|Contact: Sandra Hines|
University of Washington