Skip to content

WAS IT DESIGNED?

The Slug’s Adhesive Slime

Surgeons have long seen the need for medical adhesives to help in surgery and wound repair of body tissues. Many glues currently in use cannot be used internally. They are toxic, they become rigid when they set, and they do not stick to wet tissues. By studying the mucus of a slug, * scientists have found a way to solve these problems.

Consider: When the slug feels threatened, it exudes a slime that is sticky enough to glue the creature to a wet leaf. This defensive mechanism protects the slug, while allowing it limited freedom of movement.

Researchers analyzed the slime and found several factors that contribute to its effectiveness as a natural glue. For example, the slime uses both chemical bonding and electrostatic attraction. It penetrates the surface to which the slug attaches itself and is elastic when subjected to stress. By engineering a material that imitates the properties of slug slime, researchers have created a glue that is far stronger than currently available medical adhesives and capable of sticking to a living organ. It is said to bind “as well to organs as cartilage does to bone.”

Experts believe that this glue could become part of every surgeon’s tool kit, eliminating the need for stitches and staples. It could be used to repair cartilage or to attach medical devices exactly where they are needed in the body. Tests have already proved the glue to be effective in plugging a hole in a pig’s heart and patching holes in rats’ livers.

Scientists often find elegant solutions to common problems by studying the natural world around us. “It’s a matter of knowing where to look and recognizing a good idea when you see one,” says Donald Ingber, director of the institute that has developed the synthetic adhesive.

What do you think? Was the natural glue in slug slime the product of evolution? Or was it designed?

^ par. 3 Its scientific name is Arion subfuscus.