Glued to the barnacle: answers sought to sticky problem
SURFERS, SWIMMERS, divers and beachcombers have been asked to gather samples of a rare barnacle for research that could improve certain medical treatments.
A team at NUI Galway (NUIG) intends to use social networks to get support for the project, focused on the adhesive properties of the goose barnacle (Lepas anatifera) in wet environments. Barnacles can attach themselves to any surface, even non-stick pans. The researchers hope to produce synthetic versions of their “natural underwater superglue” for use in surgery and dental work.
The team based at NUIG’s Ryan Institute needs a large supply of goose barnacles, which live at sea and can be difficult to find.
NUIG zoology PhD student Jaimie-Leigh Jonker, who is working with colleague Dr Anne Marie Power, says the goose barnacles can wash up anywhere and have been found on such popular surfing beaches as Fanore, Co Clare.
They perish quickly from exposure to heat, light and air and the scientists hope to find live samples to transport to an aquarium environment.
The glue-like substance they emit, which hardens into a strong “cement”, consists of several proteins. The scientists hope to study the glands emitting the glue and the protein composition.
“We humans haven’t managed to create glues that can be used successfully in wet environments, but nature has done it over and over again,” Jonker says.
In a related development, the algal bloom that has been detected along the Atlantic coastline since late May is resulting in dead flatfish being washed up on beaches, along with some shellfish and lugworms.
The Marine Institute says it is particularly dense from parts of Galway to Mayo and Donegal. It is naturally occurring, caused by the microscopic algae Karenia mikimotoi and is not harmful to humans, the institute says. It is causing hardship to shellfish farmers, however.
Information on the goose barnacle research appeal is available from NUIG.