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WAS IT DESIGNED?

The Glue of the Barnacle

Zoologists have long noted the ability of barnacles to cling tenaciously to rocks, piers, and the hulls of ships. The glue of the barnacle is said to be far superior to synthetic products. Just how barnacles adhere to wet surfaces remained a mystery until recently.

Consider: Studies have revealed that a free-swimming barnacle larva examines various surfaces before choosing a suitable anchoring spot. Once it has found that spot, the larva apparently secretes two substances. The first is an oily lipid primer that displaces water from the chosen surface. The primer also creates an environment suitable for the application of the second substance, which is made up of proteins called phosphoproteins.

Together, the two substances form a strong adhesive plaque that even resists degradation by bacteria. This enduring strength is important because the barnacle will spend the rest of its life anchored to that spot.

Barnacles, with inset showing threads of barnacle glue

The barnacle’s glue-making process is far more complex than previously thought. A member of the team that discovered the process said: “It’s an incredibly clever natural solution to this problem of how to deal with a water barrier on a surface.” The findings may help researchers develop glues that can be used under water, as well as synthetic bioadhesives for use in electronics and medical implants.

What do you think? Is the glue of the barnacle the product of evolution? Or was it designed?