Could Ivy Lead to Better Medical Adhesives and Stronger Armor?

(Image:  Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via   flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )

English ivy may have the answers to wound healing, stronger armor for the military, or even better cosmetics, and it all comes down to its natural glue.

Researchers from The Ohio State University have discovered that the tiny particles that are responsible for the ivy’s ability to hold onto things, even under hurricane and tornado conditions. Mingjun Zhang, the biomedical engineering professor who led the work, was able to identify the particles within the ivy’s adhesive. This led him to identifying the primary protein within them.

Zhang focuses his work on turning to nature when trying to answer difficult problems within medicine. Zhang explained his discovery in a statement:

Many people, including Charles Darwin, have been amazed by the physics and the sheer strength of English ivy. With the use of a powerful atomic-force microscope Zhang and his team were able to identify the previously unknown element in its adhesive.

According to The Ohio State University, the tiny particles inside the glue on their laboratory slides turned out to be primarily made up of arabinogalactan proteins. And when the scientists investigated further, they discovered that the driving force behind the curing of the glue was a calcium-mediated interaction between the proteins and pectin in the gelatinous liquid that oozes from ivy as it climbs.

Even though many plants are first-rate climbers, our understanding on the adhesives that enables them to fasten themselves to walls, fences, or in fact just about anything, is still very limited. However, with this new study we now know that once the water evaporates, a chemical bond is formed. It was also found that the glue makes its way into openings invisible to the naked eye, strengthening its bond even further.

Zhang, a member of Ohio State’s Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, is particularly interested in bio-adhesives that could aid in wound healing after injury or surgeries. Others, notably the U.S. military, are interested in surface-coating applications for purposes that include strengthening armor systems, he said.

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