The shellfish play a valuable role by demonstrating how they make adhesives. (Credit: Purdue University/Rebecca McElhoe)

Chemists are studying shellfish to develop new, safer, and more sustainable adhesives for a variety of uses, including bandages and other medical applications. They are looking at how shellfish create materials, what components of the adhesives are playing active roles in bonding, and testing new synthetic and biomimetic glues to determine their efficacy, feasibility, and performance. They are building on that understanding to develop adhesives that work underwater, are stronger, more sustainable, made from food products, and that can be unstuck when needed.

The researchers are making adhesives with new functionalities by adding in new chemical groups to target all sorts of properties, be that wet bonding, rubber-like flexibility, or the ability to bond and then de-bond. One of their systems can even be stronger than what the animals make underwater. In that case, they are using chemistry that is inspired by the shellfish but, overall, the system is a simplification of what the animals produce.

Increasing the sustainability and the functionality of adhesives can improve human life in a myriad of ways: by limiting exposure to harmful chemicals, by making healing more comfortable, and by making products more sustainable and more recyclable to preserve resources and the planet.

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