The reclusive worms are rarely seen, poking out their tentacled heads only to grab at passing bits of food or grains of sand, duly sorted for future construction and repair.
It’s the worm’s constructive capabilities that have recently earned it new headlines. Or more specifically, it’s the glue they use, which works remarkably well underwater.
In 2005, researchers at UC Santa Barbara reported that the worm glue was composed of specific proteins with opposite charges called polyphenolic proteins. Four years later, scientists at the University of Utah announced they had managed to synthesize it.
The biomedical applications were – and remain – immediately obvious. Such a glue could become an effective, new bioadhesive, used to repair broken bones or seal back together delicate tissues in the very watery environment of the human body.
Not surprisingly, there have been lots of challenges to creating an effective, real-world product, but researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston may be getting closer, as described in a recent NPR story using the worm-inspired glue to patch holes in pigs’ hearts.