Barnacles are a big problem for boats. Adhering to the undersides of vessels, carpets of the crustaceans can increase fuel consumption by as much as 25%. Ship owners would love to know how to stop these hitchhikers gluing on, but before you can learn how to disrupt an adhesive, you have to understand the curing process. Curious about many aspects of the crustacean's lifestyle, Dan Rittschof from Duke University decided to find out how barnacle adhesive polymerizes. 'The process must be related to something because glue isn't de novo,' says Rittschof, so he wondered what else coagulates under water and came up with two answers: blood and semen. With a colossal body of blood clotting literature to draw on, Rittschof decided to follow his evolutionarily inspired theory to see whether barnacle glue polymerization is really an extreme example of scab formation and publishes his results on 16 October 2009 in the Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
Rittschof teamed up with Gary Dickinson and the first thing that Dickinson had to do was work out how to collect the unpolymerised glue and keep it fluid. Building on 30 years of Rittschof's experience and Beatriz Orihuela's expertise at growing and reattaching barnacles, Dickinson learned to gently lift polymerised glue away from the pores that secrete the adhesive and quickly collect the minute drops as they oozed from the shell. Working in the cold room to slow the polymerization process, Dickinson had only 5 minutes before each sample polymerized and the glue set solid.
Next the team had to convince themselves that the viscous secretion was glue and not some other body fluid. Dickinson found that the fluid polymerised rapidly and was packed full of protein, just like barnacle glue. Next Dickinson teamed up with Kathy Wahl to use atomic force microscopy to compare the molecular structures of naturally cured glue (from stuck-down ba
|Contact: Kathryn Knight|
The Company of Biologists