Microbe holds fast

A common aquatic microbe makes a sticky substance that produces “the strongest biological adhesion ever discovered,” says biophysicist Jay X. Tang of Brown University in Providence, R.I. The adhesive might lead scientists to new water-resistant glues.

SUPER STICKER. A Caulobacter crescentus cell (bottom)—with adhesive at the tip of its stalk—divides to produce a daughter cell (at top) with a flagellum. Tang and G. Li

The bacterium Caulobacter crescentus begins its life as a mobile, tail-sporting cell. As it matures, it loses its tail, or flagellum, and replaces it with a stalk that it uses to attach to rocks or other surfaces. The tip of the stalk secretes an adhesive made of sugars and proteins.

Tang and his colleagues measured the strength of the adhesive, which scientists call holdfast. They grew the microbe on a thin, flexible micropipette, then pulled away its body. The team calculated holdfast’s strength by measuring how far the micropipette bent before the microbe detached from it, says Tang.

The adhesive’s strength measured 68 newtons per square millimeter (N/mm2), the researchers report in the April 11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A single, hairlike protrusion on the toe of the much-studied gecko has an adhesive strength of about 10 N/mm2.

A wet, 10-centimeter-by-10-centimeter square surface slathered with holdfast could potentially hold about 70 tons, Tang says.

Aimee Cunningham

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

More Stories from Science News on Materials Science

From the Nature Index

Paid Content