Saturday, April 3, 2010

Terrific Threads

Mussels use their byssal threads to attach and cling to rocks; on average, each individual mussel has 50 to 100 threads. As mussels inhabit rocky shores they are exposed to the constant pressure of pounding waves, without these byssal threads these organisms would be immediately swept out to sea. Although the function of byssal threads were known, scientists were unsure of the physical characteristics which allowed byssal threads to successfully secure the mussels. Previously researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany hypothesized the byssal threads must be both hard and stretchy however, they were unsure of the exact composition.
The physical and chemical makeup of the byssal threads was determined using a microscopic technique. It revealed the center of each thread was composed of stretchy collagen – like material coated in hard material made of proteins linked together with iron ions. The coating (Figure 1) is compared to having a sandpaper – like texture. This outer coating selectively manages where any damage will occur. As waves crash against the mussels, small cracks develop in the threads however; they will only occur between the iron ions. This spreads out the damage along the byssal thread and prevents breakage.
The researchers from this study hope to apply this new found knowledge to engineering materials to be both stretchy and hard.

Full text of this article may be found at:


  1. This is a very cool example of marine biotechnology - using marine organisms as models to develop products/materials for human use.

  2. This is very cool. Its neat to know about the different mechanisms that marine animals use to live in the enviromnents that they inhabit. Its also very interesting to see the different techniques that scientists use to understand these mechanisms.

  3. This is cool. I hadn't really thought about what these threads were made up of.