EVANSTON, Ill. --- Mussels are delicious when cooked in a white wine broth, but they also have two other well-known qualities before theyre put in a pot: they stick to virtually all inorganic and organic surfaces, and they stick with amazing tenacity.
Northwestern University biomedical engineer Phillip B. Messersmith already has developed a material that mimics the strength of the bonds; now he has produced a versatile coating method that mimics the mussels ability to attach to a wide variety of objects.
Messersmith and his research team, in a study to be published in the Oct. 19 issue of the journal Science, report that a broad variety of materials can be coated and functionalized through the application of a surface layer of polydopamine.
Potential applications of the simple and inexpensive method include flexible electronics, such as bendable and flexible displays, biosensors, medical devices, marine anti-fouling coatings, and water processing and treatment, such as removing heavy metals from contaminated water.
Key to the coating method is the small molecule dopamine, commonly known as a neurotransmitter. Dopamine, it turns out, is a good mimic of the essential components of mussel adhesive proteins, and the researchers use it as a building block for polymer coatings. (Dopamine itself is not found in mussels.) So, like a mussel, Messersmiths coating sticks to anything.
This is an astonishingly simple and versatile approach to functional surface modification of materials, said Messersmith, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwesterns McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, who led the research. We dissolve dopamine, which we buy at low cost, in a beaker of water exposed to air. We adjust the waters pH to marine pH, about 8.5, put in an object and several hours later its coated with a thin film of polydopamine. Thats it.
Solid objects of any size and shape can be immersed in the solu
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