GTRI Scientists To Create Remora Type Bio Adhesive

Inspired by remora, scientist try to create bio-adhesive

7:34 AM, 22nd February 2013
georgia tech research institute research news
3-D rapid prototypes of an enlarged lamella (in hand) and mineralized tissue within a remora adhesive disk (on table).

ATLANTA, US: When a shark is spotted in the ocean, humans and marine animals alike usually flee. But not the remora – this fish will instead swim right up to a shark and attach itself to the predator using a suction disk located on the top of its head. A new study led by researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) provides details of the structure and tissue properties of the remora’s unique adhesion system.

The researchers plan to use this information to create an engineered reversible adhesive inspired by the remora that could be used to create pain- and residue-free bandages, attach sensors to objects in aquatic or military reconnaissance environments, replace surgical clamps and help robots climb.

“While other creatures with unique adhesive properties – such as geckos, tree frogs and insects – have been the inspiration for laboratory-fabricated adhesives, the remora has been overlooked until now. The remora’s attachment mechanism is quite different from other suction cup-based systems, fasteners or adhesives that can only attach to smooth surfaces or cannot be detached without damaging the host,” said Jason Nadler, Senior Research Engineer, GTRI.

To understand how remoras attach to a host, Nadler and Allison Mercer, Research Scientist, GTRI teamed up with researchers from the Georgia Tech School of Biology and Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering to investigate and quantitatively analyze the structure and form of the remora adhesion system, including its hierarchical nature.

Dissection experiments showed that the remora’s attachment or release from a host could be controlled by muscles that raise or lower the lamellae. Dissection also revealed light-coloured muscle tissue surrounding the suction disk, indicating low levels of myoglobin. For the remora to maintain active muscle control while attached to a marine host over long distances, the muscle tissue should display high concentrations of myoglobin, which were only seen in the much darker swimming muscles.

The researchers also developed a technique that allowed them to collect thousands of measurements from three remora specimens, which yielded new insight into the shape, arrangement and spacing of their features.

Detailed microtomography-based surface renderings of the lamellae showed a row of shorter, more regularly spaced and more densely packed spinules and another row of longer, less densely spaced spinules. A quantitative analysis uncovered similarities in suction disk structure with respect to the size and position of the lamellae and spinules despite significant specimen size differences. One of the fish’s disks was more than twice as long as the others, but the researchers observed a length-to-width ratio of each specimen’s adhesion disk that was within 16 per cent of the average.

Through additional experiments, the researchers found that the spacing between the spinules on the remoras and the spacing between scales on mako sharks was remarkably similar.

“Complementary spacing between features on the remora and a shark likely contributes to the larger adhesive strength that has been observed when remoras are attached to shark skin compared to smoother surfaces,” said Mercer.

The researchers are planning to conduct further tests to better understand the roles of the various suction disk structural elements and their interactions to create a successful attachment and detachment system in the laboratory.

© Georgia Institute of Technology News

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