God's amazing glue
Here’s a challenge. Design an extremely strong glue, which must be capable of adhering to wet, slimy surfaces, under water, which can join a tiny flexible mouthpiece (a few hundredths of a millimetre in diameter) to its host. The glue must be delivered in a non-sticky form so that it does not stick the mouthpiece shut before it comes into proper contact with its host. The glue must adhere quickly and be stable and durable, but it must also be reversible so that the join can be quickly dissolved when needed.
Sounds like a tall order doesn’t it? But that is exactly what the tiny flatworms called monogeneans do.1 Monogeneans are parasites that live on the gills, fins and skin of fish. They first take hold by using hooks on their rear end, but for feeding they glue their mouths on with this remarkable superglue. The glue is produced in two kinds of glands in the head region, and is extruded through tiny holes in front of and beside the mouth. The two different components are non-sticky so they don’t stick the wrong things together. One is packaged in a rod shape, the other in a sphere. Only when the two parts come together at the desired time and place do they form a glue—just like a two-part epoxy resin.
Researchers at the University of Queensland have uncovered this remarkable story from specimens gathered on the Great Barrier Reef. They believe that this natural superglue will have ‘almost limitless’ potential as a commercial adhesive, with applications ranging from underwater construction to sticking people back together again after surgery.
Team leader Dr Ian Whittington said, ‘You can’t help but marvel at the amazing properties of these glues.’ It’s only when our technology begins to get close to God’s that we start to understand the ‘marvellous’ designs that He has used!
- Flatworm Superglue, Australian Geographic 57:120, January–March 2000. Return to text.