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UC scientific research into possibilities of NZ seaweed

UC scientific research looking to see if NZ coastline seaweed could be used as a glue


A University of Canterbury (UC) researcher is looking to see if New Zealand coastline seaweed could be used as inspiration to design a commercial wet-resistant glue.

Dr Simone Dimartino from UC’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre says preliminary experiments demonstrate that the kelp is effective in sticking to glass surfaces. Further tests will be carried out to see if seaweed can attach firmly to other surfaces such as plastic and metals.
``I was travelling around New Zealand two years ago. I was on the cliffs at Otago Peninsula when I noticed huge amounts of kelp continuously battered by big strong ocean waves. I instantly thought they must produce something really sticky not to be washed away. The idea was born to start researching kelp as source for a natural adhesive,’’ Dr Dimartino said today.

``The most remarkable thing is that the kelp attaches to the rocks underwater. Even the most impressive man-made adhesives fail when used underwater, while kelp has been doing it for millions of years. A wet resistant glue inspired by kelp could be used in aquatic environments with no risk of chemical pollution. For example it could be used by the Navy.

``But the major aim is to design a bio-compatible glue that could be used for one of the wettest systems in the world: the human body. Such glue could be used as an alternative to painful stitches or staples or help repair tissue tears or even bone fractures.’’

Dr Dimartino has been working in Kaikoura taking advantage of the UC field facility there. The Kaikoura Peninsula is rich in many kinds of seaweed and is a perfect place to get used to the marine environment. He also found Shag Point on the coast north of Dunedin an ideal place to collect samples.

Most research on the glue produced by marine organisms focuses on mussels and barnacles, very little on kelps. The few studies carried out vaguely conclude on the chemical composition of the glue and propose possible theories on the attachment strategies, but no definite conclusion has been given yet, he said.

``I use a special surface technique which helps me detect what kind of chemical constituents are present in the kelp glue and I should have the results by the end of next year. The real challenge will be to design a synthetic counterpart which can be produced in sufficient amounts for commercial use.’’

Kelp has a reproductive cycle which is strikingly similar to humans. When Dr Dimartino gets to the coast he selects male and female plants, releases eggs and sperm in the lab and then assists in their fertilisation and reproduction.

Dr Dimartino then follows the secretion of the glue and surface attachment which is crucial in the sea as newborn must firmly attach to a surface and avoid being washed away by the strong waves and tidal currents.

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 to materials currently used in biomedical implants.

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