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2013 News in Brief



Understanding the strength of a mussel’s underwater attachments could enable better glues and biomedical interfaces

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A mussel collected in Boston Harbor clings to a clay slab, attached by an array of thin filaments called byssus threads. New MIT research has revealed the secret of the resilience of these threads. Photo Zhao QinUnlike barnacles, which cement themselves tightly to surfaces, the bivalves called mussels dangle more loosely, attached by a collection of fine filaments known as byssus threads. This approach lets the creatures drift further out into the water, where they can absorb nutrients. Despite the outwardly thin and fragile appearance of these threads, it turns out that in the dynamic, sloshing environment of waves and currents they can withstand impact forces that are nine times greater than the forces exerted by stretching in only one direction. The secret to these tiny natural bungee cords has now been unraveled by research scientist Zhao Qin and professor of civil and environmental engineering Markus Buehler. Their findings appeared last week in the journal Nature Communications. Read a news story.