At the right pH, the hormone and neurotransmitter dopamine turns out to be a really good adhesive. Karen Hopkin reports.
Dopamine. It’s a crucial brain chemical, involved in problem solving and feeling pleasure. Now it’s gotten scientists into a sticky situation—because they used dopamine to make a biologically based superglue. The research appeared in the October 19th issue of the journal Science.
Engineers at Northwestern University were looking to produce a glue as strong and versatile as the cement made by mussels—which can cling to rocks, ship hulls, and even each other. Mussel glue is made of protein, which can be tricky to produce in bulk. So the scientists turned to dopamine, because it has some of the same chemical components found in the gummy protein.
Sure enough, when the engineers mixed up a vat of dopamine, and adjusted the pH to match that of seawater, they found that it sticks to pretty much everything. All you have to do is dip the item of interest and it’s instantly coated with dopa-glue.
Best of all, you can then get other stuff to stick to the dopamine coat. Say you want to remove lead from your drinking water—just let it wash over the sticky dopamine and the toxic metal stays. Fascinating that the dopamine in the researchers’ brains probably helped them solve the problem of creating dopamine that sticks like mussels.