New Polymer Prevents Mussel Adhesion on Underwater Surfaces
Too many mussels can make for a sticky situation. The bivalves will take any opportunity to attach themselves to an underwater object. They can clog pipes, destroy scientific equipment, and damage dams and boats. Now, scientists have found a way to fight back. Researchers report today in Science that they have developed a polymer lubricant that prevents the mussels from glomming onto underwater surfaces. The key to the mussel’s cling is byssal thread, a sticky fiber the animal secretes as soon as it detects a solid structure. The new lubricant repels organic matter, so the scientists hypothesized that it would prevent the mussels from noticing the surface beneath them and grabbing on. In testing, Asian green mussels (Perna viridis) poked their tacky appendages out at the surface—but couldn’t grab hold. After 8 weeks of submersion in the waters of Scituate, Massachusetts, plates coated with the mussel-repelling polymer only averaged four mussels per square centimeter. The plates without it averaged 118 per square centimeter. There is still testing to be done before this antimussel material will reach the market. But for scientists and sailors alike, it could be a life-saver.