Biomaterials research inspired by nature's wet adhesion

July 02, 2019 //By Rich Pell
Biomaterials research inspired by nature's wet adhesion
The Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capability Development Command's Army Research Laboratory, has announced that it has recently awarded a three-year grant of $400,000 for researchers to bio-engineer proteins like those found in mussels and tree frogs to yield similar wet adhesion in sealants, coatings, glues, and medical adhesives.

Crucial proteins in these particular animals exhibit unique behaviors and chemical reactivity. The researchers, led by NYU Tandon School of Engineering Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jin Kim Montclare, are creating hydrogels that borrow certain key features of those proteins such as the separation of a solution into two distinct liquids in response to external stimuli, the incorporation of nonstandard amino acids, and patterning, like the polygonal pillars seen in the toe pads of tree frogs.

"We're employing strategies to control both the nanoscale conformational changes within the protein material and the micro-scaled patterns," says Montclare. "The resulting set of proposed protein-engineered materials will bear insight into how we can impact the overall physicochemical properties while also developing novel biologically inspired adhesives."

"This research could have tremendous implications in biomedical applications relevant to the military and society as a whole," says Montclare, "and could later broadly impact products in diverse areas like biosensors, programmable devices, reconfigurable and self-healing materials, living-anti-corrosion paints, and robust human-machine interfaces, to name just a few."

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense funded a new instrumentation system for Montclare's lab that will allow her to harness the most powerful methods of synthetic biology and protein engineering.

Dr. Stephanie McElhinny, Biochemistry Program manager at the Army Research Office says, "Dr. Montclare aims to create artificial biological adhesives that controllably interface with non-living inorganic materials. This kind of responsive biological adhesive is particularly exciting, as it could be used for protective coatings that could extend the life of military vehicles or devices by eliminating contaminants that degrade paints or coatings."

"This research effort also includes a strong collaboration at the Army Research Laboratory with Dr. Richard Fu, who will explore the ability to transfer extremely precise patterns of these protein-based adhesives to surfaces using specifically designed photomasks generated using ARL's Specialty Electronics Materials and Sensors Cleanroom (SEMASC) Facility," says McElhinny.

Montclare has previously made breakthroughs in

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