Life in the intertidal zone can be nasty, brutish, and short. Pounded by constant waves, exposed to extremes in temperature and salinity, and preyed upon by a range of voracious predators (including humans), only the hardiest organisms endure. The humble mussel is one of them. Thanks to an incredibly strong matrix of adhesive proteins, known as byssal threads, that it extrudes through its two-hinged shell, the mussel is able to anchor itself to almost any surface--even Teflon.
A team of Northwestern University researchers led by biomedical engineer Phillip B. Messersmith has developed a special two-sided coating for use with medical implants that mimics the mussel's adhesive properties. The sticky side, made with dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA), an amino acid that gives the mussel proteins their strength, is used to attach the coating to the implant. The non-stick side, which is covered with polyethylene glycol (PEG), inhibits the build-up of cell debris and bacteria that tend to gum up and contaminate cardiac stents, catheters, and other devices.