New research shows how mussels find the perfect match. For mussels, fertilization occurs between eggs and sperm that have been released into the water. Up until now, it seemed the pairings were random limiting the ability to choose mates and diminishing the chance for successful fertilization due to genetic mismatches. However, recent research shows that the eggs actually release chemicals to attract the most compatible sperm.
Since mussels are able to stick to just about any surface, including teflon (image below), other researchers are exploring mussel proteins for creating bio-inspired adhesives and bandages. Imagine adhesives that actually stay on in water! In fact, Dr. Messersmith at Northwestern University recently demonstrated that mussel-inspired “glue” could be used to repair tiny holes in the membrane that surround a fetus and result in leakage of amniotic fluid increasing the risk for miscarriages. These defects can happen during endoscopic surgery on the fetus to correct birth defects or may develop spontaneously. Dr. Messersmith found the mussel glue to be biocompatible and effective as a sealant although the studies have only been conducted on isolated fetal membranes and not yet tested during pregnancy.
Image: Mussels stuck to a rock (left) and teflon (right) from Northwestern University
J. Evans et al., “Assessing the potential for egg chemoattractants to mediate sexual selection in a broadcast spawning marine invertebrate,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0181, 2012.