Scientists find surgery, cancer use for mussels


Mussels are displayed at a supermarket at the Kremlin-Bicetre, outside Paris. AFP FILE PHOTO/JOEL SAGET

BOSTON — Mussels secrete a powerful adhesive to hold tight on rocks swept by violent waves — and a synthetic version could prove critical for surgery and cancer treatment, researchers said Saturday.

Scientists have created materials that mimic the mussels’ sticky proteins and could have medical applications such as sealants for fetal membrane repair, self-setting antibacterial hydrogels and polymers for to deliver cancer drugs and destroy cancer cells.

“An inland stream with water moving at only one meter (yard) per second is very hard to stand in,” said University of Washington, Seattle biologist Emily Carrington, who studies the tiny mollusks.

“Imagine something going 10 times that speed — over your whole body.”

That’s what mussels withstand — and more — as they cling to rocks, grasses and other materials under water.

Carrington said water traveling 10 meters per second would be equivalent to winds blowing 600 miles (965 kilometers) per hour.

“A couple of them clinging to a rock can support the weight of a fully grown person” said Herbert Waite, a molecular biologist from the University of California.

They spoke on the sidelines of the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.

The “glue” comes from the mussel’s foot, called the byssus, which can cling to almost any surface — wet, dry, organic or inorganic.

Phillip Messersmith, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, is one of the researchers looking to reproduce the sticking power in a synthetic substance.

He and his team have developed a version that is equally water resistant, and could help close internal wounds, among other medical applications.

“The repair or reconstruction of tissues in the human body, where water is ubiquitous and its presence represents a challenge for achieving desired outcomes,” is an especially compelling potential use for the adhesive, Messersmith said in a statement.

For instance, the substance could prove useful in repairing fetal membranes that have prematurely ruptured, a condition that is difficult to treat and can lead to miscarriage, premature births and other serious complications.

Messersmith and his team are collaborating with researchers in Europe on clinical trials.

Another team is working to develop synthetic versions of the mussel’s adhesive that could help repair broken bones or teeth.

“These glues are tolerated by the body and are water-resistant and that is perfect for making repairs inside the body,” he said.

In addition to the medical applications, Carrington’s team uses the mussel “glue” as an indicator of changes in the environment — especially of warming.

Laboratory experiments showed that mussels are significantly less able hold on when the temperature rises.

The resistance of these fibers, strongest in waters 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 18 Celsius), diminishes by 60 percent when the water reaches 15 degrees Fahrenheit above typical summer temperatures in the mussels’ place of origin.

Researchers had already observed that the mussel’s foot weakened at the end of summer and in early fall, just when hurricane season reaches full force, before regaining strength in the colder seasons.

“We’re trying to learn what causes this seasonal weakening — is it related to warmer weather, their spawning cycle or something else?” Carrington told reporters.

“And now we want to know if increased environmental fluctuations will help put them over the edge.”

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  • Jack Phalaphitac

    Amazing creatures, these mussels are. Shouldn’t we invite those scientists to come over here in the Philippines to study another creature with the same amazing, albeit anomalous, characteristics?

     Philippine political creatures like Enrile, Erap, Binay and their breed seem to posses the same adhesive substance that the mussels have. They can keep on being riveted to their posts come hell or high water. Except Erap who cannot stand the heat of people power. But he’s back to inflict us again and that’s another story.  They seem to have this adhesive substance in great quantity especially during election time. So great that they can pass a big chunk of it to their offspring for their species to continue clinging to what they’re clinging to till kingdom come. They do that to perpetuate their respective specie’s presence even when they’re long gone. 

    These creatures, the mussels, maybe has got that super glue, but it has been observed here in the Philippines that political clans like those above posses and use something akin to it. We need to give the Filipino voters the antidote.

    Well, if high temperatures affect the efficacy of the mussels’ glue, should we not just lump these clans with dynastic political minds in one group and throw them in a cauldron of boiling oil? Who knows, by boiling them in hot oil, we might find the antidote to the adhesive they’re using to cling to power. Finding it, we put it to good use. Like using it against budding political dynasties to nip it in the bud. That, will be amazing.

    • divictes

      Three Kings, a.k.a. Tatlong Tahong… he he he

    • Juan Tamadachij


    • FitzIan

      haha nice one!

    • Abdul Rashid

       You are hilarious Jack seeing these similarities. Hahahahahha!

    • pepito gwaps

      that is true…they are using super glue better than cyanoacrylate which is so sticky that even you manually remove them there would always be some part of them are stubbornly left behind that last even for decades..

  • Pert Cabatana

    We have so much natural resources around us. But real wealth lies not in merely harvesting and consuming them. Much, much more wealth is generated in adding our brainpower to them, by generating innovative and useful new products from them. This is one reason why I think mining does not fully benefit us because it is nothing but harvesting non-renewable resource without longterm benefit for the country. I hope that our new K12 education would change our mindset from mere harvest+consumption mentality to real innovation+entrepreneurship mentality.

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