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Mussel Sticky Threads Can Open New Era of Bones, Tendons Repair, Scientists

Update Date: Jul 23, 2013 10:06 PM EDT

After uncovering the secret of its strength, scientists are looking into ways of developing therapeutic use of the sticky threads that mussels use to attach themselves to rocks.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced that they uncovered the secrets behind the stickiness of the fine filaments and expect to use the mussel's technology in areas like bone and tendon repair, and even replace stitches.

The study was conducted by Zhao Qin, a civil and environmental engineer at the MIT. According to him, byssus threads are composed of soft, stretchy material on one end and a much stiffer material on the other.

"In spite of having different functionality, the materials are both made of a protein very similar to collagen, the main constituent of bone, cartilage, tendons and skin in mammals," he said.

According to the study, the proteins that make up the threads come in two varieties: one that acts like a stretchy bungee cord which account for the stiffness of the filaments - eighty per cent of the threads are made from this protein - and twenty per cent are made of a soft and stretchy variety.

 "This mix makes it possible for the threads to deform without breaking, helping to keep the mussel attached to the rock," Qin said in the paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

This finding could find application in the designing of synthetic materials that share these features as well as in production of new kind of glues.

"I see potential application in repairing damaged bones or as surgical sutures in blood vessels, where there is a need for material that is flexible as well as stiff," he added. "About 80 percent of the length of the byssus threads is made of stiff material, while 20 percent are softer and stretchier.

"The soft and stretchy portions of the threads attach to the mussel itself, while the stiffer portion attaches to the rock."

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