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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
'Nature's strongest glue' found
Caulobacter crescentus
Caulobacter sticks to things through chains of sugar molecules
Scientists believe a bacterium that lives in rivers, streams and aqueducts could be nature's strongest glue.

The US team hope the bacterium, Caulobacter crescentus, could be mass produced and used in medicine perhaps as a surgical adhesive or dental glue.

Indiana University researchers found it withstood a stress of five tons per square inch.

The report on the research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The challenge would be to produce large enough quantities of this glue without it sticking to everything that is used to produce it
Yves Brun

Caulobacter crescentus affixes itself to rocks and the inside of water pipes via a long, slender stalk which is held fast with chains of sugar molecules or polysaccharides.

The Indiana team found these sugars were the source of its ultra stickiness.

In experiments the team allowed the bacterium to attach itself to the side of a thin, flexible glass pipette.

They then tried to pull it away from the pipette and measured the force of the strain.

In 14 trials they found they had to apply a force of 0.11 to 2.26 micronewtons before the bacterium was detached.

Dental glue

This is seven times the force by which geckoes stick to slippery rocks through the very thin adhesive hairs on their feet - previously thought to be the stickiest naturally occurring material.

Bacteriology Professor Yves Brun said: "If you were to cover the tip of the finger with this glue you should be able to bond to an object weighing 1,600 pounds."

He said a man-made form of the bacteria could be especially useful in medicine and engineering as it worked on wet surfaces.

"One possibility would be as a biodegradable surgical adhesive perhaps used to close up wounds or as a dental adhesive.

"The challenge would be to produce large enough quantities of this glue without it sticking to everything that is used to produce it," he added.

Lecturer in bacteriology at Newcastle University and Caulobacter expert Dr Phillip Aldridge said this study is one of a very few that looks into how sticky sugars actually are.

"Look what happens to your fingers after eating a jam doughnut or dried spilt soft drinks. We also know that these type of interactions are the strongest interactions out there and they all in some way involve sugars."

He added: "The good thing about many polysaccharides like the Caulobacter holdfast is that not much eats them in this form (remember they are sugars, one thing all organisms need to grow) - they first must break them down.

"The hardest part about using it would be preventing it from sticking to things during production."

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