Purdue University Graduate School

File(s) under embargo





until file(s) become available

Investigation of Natural Adhesives

posted on 2022-10-13, 20:18 authored by Bradley C McgillBradley C Mcgill

Adhesives  are  found  in  almost  every  aspect  of  the  modern  world.  They  are  found  in plywood used in buildings, electronics, shoes, plumbing and in almost every facet of your daily life. Nature also has an abundance of these adhesives that are used fora multitude of applications. Some  animals, like  the  blue  mussel, use  their  adhesive  for  protection  against  ocean  waves  and predators  while other animals, such  as  the  spider, use  it  to  trap  prey. Investigation  of  theses adhesives has led to the identification of several different proteins that allow for these animals to make  their  adhesive.  Some  of  them  are  composed of rare  amino  acids that  while  other  animals use  a combination  of  inorganic  and  organic  components.  Understanding  of  these  unique adhesives  can be  a  boon  for designof future  adhesives  that  do  not  have  the disadvantagesof current day commercialized glues.

Increasing interest  in  the  restoration  of  natural  oyster  reefs  and  the  cement  that  holds them  together  has  resulted  in  the  identification  of  the  Shelk2  protein  that  is  found  both  in  the mantle  of  the  oyster’s  shell  as  well  as  the  cement  that  holds  the  reefs  together. Gaining  an understanding  of  how  this  protein  functions  and  its  part  in  the  oyster  reef  could  be  quite beneficial  for  projects  investing  in  reef  restorations  as  well  as  underwater  adhesion.  Gathering protein  from  the  animal  for  experimentation  and  characterization  can  be  labor  intensive  and extremely challenging. Luckily, cloning technology has become a useful tool for the expression of large quantities of proteins that can be difficult or impossible to gather from the native animal. Using E. coli, it  is  possible  to design  and express  this protein  in  hopes  of  gaining  a  better understanding of its impact on oyster settlement and adhesion.

Sustainability is a major downside to current day adhesives that current technologies have not  been  able  to  solve. Most adhesives  that  are  on  the  market  today  are  primarily  derived  from petroleum. Current  research  has  begun  investigating  alternatives  to  the  large   epoxy   and formaldehyde  adhesive  market,  but  the  barrier  of  entry  is  hard  to  overcome.  To  replace  these glues  the  new  material  must  be  affordable,  non-petroleum  derived,  and  available  on  a  massive scale.  These  requirements  are  hard  to  meet  for  many  materials  and  due  to  that  the  current  bio-adhesive are generally very low strength.

The work presented here will detail the characterization, and expression of some of these natural  adhesives that  have  been  found  in  the  Eastern  oyster. Another  aspect of  this  work includes the synthesis of a new bio-based adhesive system. Utilizing biomimetic chemistry along with  sustainably  sourced  materials  a  new  adhesive  has  been  formulated that  has  comparable adhesive strength to current day commercial adhesives.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jonathan Wilker

Additional Committee Member 2

Suzanne C. Doucette Bart

Additional Committee Member 3

Chengde Mao

Additional Committee Member 4

Julie C. Liu