Mussels are a great delicacy to those with a taste for seafood. Mind you, aesthetically mussels lack a certain comeliness. Frankly they don't look like much.
But scientific research has been plumbing into their surprising complexity in recent years and has found a new usefulness to mussels.
The journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces reported that a sticky substance much like the mussels' adhesive that fastens them to surfaces such as rocks has provided inspiration.
Quan-Li Li, Chun Hung Chu along with some colleagues wanted to find something that would rebuild dentin and enamel. This would be a great boon to people with sensitive teeth due to erosion of the soft dentin and the hard enamel.
The researchers said that as many as three out of four people suffer with teeth that are too sensitive for cold, hot, sweet or sour foods and liquids.
The mussel's natural adhesive that fastens them to underwater surfaces served as a model for development of a synthetic substance that can reform enamel and dentin.
Research was funded by NSFC RGC grant, the Outstanding Youth Fund from the Board of Education of Anhui Province and the Youth Foundation of the Anhui Provincial Natural Science Foundation.
Research on the mussel and its adhesive has been going on for some time now.
Two years ago, Holten-Andersen, Lee and an international team of colleagues published information about their invention of a synthetic adhesive modeled on the mussel's adhesive in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition in January, 2011.
Their synthetic adhesive helps bypass the problems inherent in many synthetic coatings. Brittleness and strength unfortunately usually come hand in hand with these other coatings. The synthetic adhesive will heal itself if it breaks.
Co-author Phillip Messersmith of Northwestern University synthesized a polymer which is a main ingredient in the mussel's adhesive.
The polymer is a green solution when metal salts are mixed at low pH. When the solution is mixed with sodium hydroxide, it becomes a red gel, changing the pH from being highly acid to being highly alkaline. The red gel is capable of mending tears in just a matter of minutes.
A few years ago, Haeshin Lee, who worked at the Korea Advanced Institute of Technology, Northwestern's Phillip Messersmith and UChicago's Norbert Scherer, found that dopa was the main active ingredient in mussels' adhesive protein. Dopa is an amino acid which is the same as the dopa which treats Parkinson's disease.
Holt-Andersen said that inspiration from nature brought benefits not available outside of nature. He was quoted in a Jan. 31, 2011 Sciencedaily.com article as saying, "A lot of our traditional materials are hard to get rid of once we're done with them, whereas nature's materials are obviously made in a way that's environmentally friendly."