Researchers at the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway are hoping to enlist the help of the general public to gather a rare barnacle which occasionally washes up on Irish shores. The specimens will be used to advance scientific knowledge surrounding the adhesive properties of barnacles.
Barnacles have an amazing ability to attach themselves to every surface imaginable – even non-stick frying pans – and researchers at NUI Galway are studying the glue that the barnacle produces. They hope that one day synthetic versions of this natural underwater super-glue will be available for use in applications such as surgery and dentistry. However, the species under study is the goose barnacle (Lepas anatifera), which is lives out at sea and is very difficult to find.
In order to continue their research more goose barnacles are required and the research group has now launched a media campaign, including a facebook and twitter campaign, to encourage the public to help find them.
A Zoology PhD student, Jaimie-Leigh Jonker, who is working with NUI Galway’s Dr Anne Marie Power, explains: “These large goose barnacles sporadically wash ashore along the Irish coast in a mostly unpredictable manner; while popular surfing beaches like Fanore and Doughmore Bay have proved fruitful in the past, these animals could wash up anywhere. When washed ashore they will die from exposure to heat, light and air, unless we find them first and bring them back to our aquarium.”
Barnacles secrete a glue-like substance which consists of several proteins and somehow sticks to both the barnacle’s body and whatever surface it is on, where it hardens to form a very strong ‘cement’.
“It might seem perfectly ordinary that a sea creature can stick to a surface, but if you stop to think about it you may realise that it’s actually quite an incredible innovation by nature, says Jaimie-Leigh. “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.”
The purpose of the current research at NUI Galway is to understand how the barnacle glue works, through examining both the glands inside the body that produce the glue and the proteins that make up the glue. “Eventually we hope to be able to create synthetic proteins with the same adhesive properties, which could be put to use as glues for surgery and dentistry”, explains Jaimie-Leigh. “Within just a decade or so the way that we practice surgery is likely to change greatly, with one of those changes being the replacement of sutures, staples and pins with adhesives copied from nature.”
Jaimie-Leigh and her colleagues would love to hear from anybody that comes across goose barnacles on the Irish coast this summer. You can contact the barnacle research group at the Zoology in NUI Galway, on 091 493191 or through email (firstname.lastname@example.org), twitter (@BarnacleHunt) and facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheAmazingGooseBarnacle).