Seaweed could inspire a wet-resistant glue

25 October 2013

A University of Canterbury postgraduate researcher is investigating New Zealand seaweed to see if it can inspire commercial wet-resistant glue.

Seaweed could inspire a wet-resistant glue - Imported from Legacy News system

Anton Mather

A University of Canterbury postgraduate researcher is investigating New Zealand seaweed to see if it can inspire commercial wet-resistant glue.

Biological sciences student Anton Mather is working under the supervision of Dr Simone Dimartino and Professor Juliet Gerrard on investigating seaweed bio-adhesives that could benefit New Zealand’s Naval and undersea construction industries.

As well as offering the adhesive to the Navy and the shipping industry, there is also potential for the seaweed-based adhesives to be used in the biomedical industry for repair of tissues in place of stitches.

Mather’s research into bio-adhesives produced by seaweed has just earned him the powerHouse Innovation Award at UC’s Annual Biology Conference.

"Seaweed has an ability to adhere to marine surfaces and withstand large tidal forces. To avoid becoming detached, this kelp produces an extremely strong water resistant glue anchoring it to the rocks. The surfaces that the kelp adheres to are chemically very dirty with a range of contaminants over them.

"Synthetic glues often fail in wet and dirty environments and frequently require intensive surface cleaning techniques using high energy processes or strong chemicals.

"The kelp produces a glue that is able to attach very strongly to the rocks despite the presence of these contaminants. We are interested in what this glue is made from and the mechanism behind its powerful connection with the surface.

In addition to the development of bio-inspired adhesives, this research could also lead toward the development of superior coatings for biofouling resistance.

"Areas where better anti-biofouling coatings would benefit New Zealand are in shipping, where biofouling increases drag and fuel consumption and the aquaculture industry where anti-biofouling coatings could prevent the adhesion of undesired organisms while allowing the adhesion of desired organisms such as mussels,’’ Mather says.

"To investigate the glue, we are testing its strength in sticking to a variety of materials including glass, stainless steel, Teflon and plastics.

"Other planned experiments involve chemical modifications of the materials to get a more refined picture of the chemical makeup of the glue. The potential applications for findings from this research in producing new environmentally-friendly glue are substantial.’’

Mather and Dr Dimartino have been working around Banks Peninsula  which is rich in many kinds of seaweed and is a perfect place to get used to the marine environment.

Preliminary experiments demonstrate that the kelp is effective in sticking to glass surfaces. Further tests will be carried out to see if the seaweed could attach firmly to other surfaces such as plastic and metals, with specific interest in materials currently used in biomedical implants.

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168