Sticky wiglet

Sandcastle worms are 3-inch-long marine polychaetes that reside off the coast of California, from Sonoma County to northern Baja California, where they build tubular, honeycomb-like reefs of sand.

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.


Glue your muscles with mussel-like glue?

N e w   f o r   S u r g e r y

Borrowing from chemical structure of mussels’ adhesive protein, a new bio-glue was created by Penn State University and University of Texas-Arlington bioengineers.

Images credit: 
Thinkstock/ Hemera/fresh opened mussels close up & single blue mussel isolated on white background

If you had this new bioadhesive (injectable synthetic polymer) that works well in wet environments, what would you do with it?
The People'€™s Choice -€“ Farm grown asphalt: Pig poop for sustainability

This summer, finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Business Competition submitted short video overviews of their innovative ideas. One video rose to the top – winning this year’s People’s Choice award. The video was put together by student Daniel Oldham, a member of the team of entrepreneurs at North Carolina A&T State University who are sending pig manure off to the glue factory.

The United States alone produces 6 billion gallons of swine manure per year. Using a reforming process that combines this organic matter with heat and pressure in an oxygen-depleted (anoxic) water solution, the group was able to create a replacement for petroleum-based asphalt binders. According to their analysis, this “PiGrid” is cheaper and better (for the environment) than traditional petroleum-based binders.

The idea was born in 2009 in Civil Engineering Professor Elham “Ellie” H. Fini’s Sustainable Infrastructure Materials (SIM) lab.  In her lab’s attempt to develop construction adhesives that do not rely on petroleum sources, they identified pig manure as a potentially rich resource. Their analysis showed that this raw material’s chemical structure and mechanical properties made it a promising possibility for replacing petroleum-based asphalt binders.

The BioAdhesive Alliance Inc. was soon born, focusing on the concept that Pig poop + heat + pressure could equal environmental sustainability. The team took their idea to the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Business Competition and took home the $100,000 grand prize at the southeastern region’s ACC Clean Energy Challenge. This made them one of six finalists to advance to the grand finale national round.While the Alliance’s technology did not win the grand prize, their video – narrated by student Daniel Oldham – came out on top. 

The team is now moving on to build a pilot plant on their university’s campus with a longer-term goal of building their first commercial reactor in Warsaw, NC.

Find the video here: