Secret of Mussel Thread Strength Discovered

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mussel Strength

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s scientist Zhao Qin and Professor Markus Buehler have discovered how mussels stick on to objects even in high intensity waves. The researchers found that the thin threads that mussels hang by can withstand forces nine times greater than forces exerted by stretching in a single direction.

The mussels hang onto rocks under the water by what is called as Byssus threads. These high tensile threads are made up of soft and stretchy material on one end and much stiffer material on the other. These threads are made up of mostly collagen, the main constituent of skin and tendons. However, the scientists were surprised at how the static strength of the glue on the threads was holding the mussels in place, as it was physically impossible.

The scientists conducted a test by pulling on them after they were stuck on to wood, clay and ceramic. It was observed that the distribution of the two aspects that is the soft and stiff parts of the threads was the key. The stiff part made up 80% of the thread, while the soft part made up 20%. The scientists tested other ratios and found that having more of the stiff material prevented the mussels from flowing away, and a bit of the soft part allowed the glue to work its best, as it works like a shock absorber.

The scientists imply that learning more about this trait can help to develop surgical sutures or stitches, used in blood vessels and intestines. Also, these threads can lead to inventions of rope-like material useful in construction.

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