Learning from Marine Animals to Develop New Biomedical Materials

Posted by Bob Michaels on October 24, 2012

Like other scientists around the world, a researcher at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) is investigating marine biology in an effort to design and develop new biomimetic materials. Jonathan Wilker, a professor of chemistry and materials engineering, remarks that the oceans are filled with a fascinating array of biological materials. For example, mussels, barnacles, oysters, starfish, limpets, sea weeds, tube worms, sea cucumbers, and anemones all create adhesives and cements that are inspiring scientists to develop future medical device materials.

Heading a lab that draws from biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, polymer chemistry, marine biology, and materials engineering, Wilker points to how barnacles cement themselves to rocks, how mussels attach to each other in communities, and how oysters aggregate to build reef structures. "As we learn the secrets of marine bioadhesives, we are using this information to design new synthetic materials," he says.

Some new polymer systems can bond more strongly than commercial Super Glue and also adhere well underwater, Wilker notes. One of the greatest challenges in adhesion is the development of surgical glues that simultaneously set when wet, are nontoxic, and bond strongly.

Those who have the good fortune to be at Purdue University on November 8 can hear Wilker speak on "Biomaterials at the Beach: Learning How Marine Biology Makes Materials." The presentation will take place at 6:00 p.m. at the Lafayette Brewing Company.