Self-assembling Underwater Adhesives

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Professor Timothy Lu
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
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Chao Zhong
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
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Jon Gilbert
MIT Technology Licensing Officer
Patent Protection

Self-Assembling Underwater Adhesives

US Patent Pending US 2016-0220727
Strong underwater adhesives made by self-assembling multi-protein nanofibres
Nature Nanomaterials, 2014, Vol. 9, pp. 858-866


This tool has applications towards designing adhesives for fully hydrated conditions, such as for suturing wounds inside the body.

Problem Addressed

Most common synthetic adhesives are not effective when they are applied to a wet surface.  Thus, less convenient alternatives must be substituted in certain contexts.  For example, wounds inside the body must be closed with sutures, even though an adhesive sealing material has the potential to be an effective alternative.   However, certain marine organisms, such as mussels, express proteins granting them the ability to effectively adhere to fully hydrated surfaces, which suggests the potential for a biomimetic solution.


Researchers at MIT have recently designed an adhesive, based on proteins found in nature, that has the ability to adhere to fully hydrated surfaces.  Using synthetic biology, the authors have engineered a fusion of an amyloid E. coli protein and a mussel foot protein to form a substance that has both strong adhesive and cohesive properties.  While the amyloid protein provides a large interaction surface area, the mussel foot protein ensures a strong adhesive force.  These hybrid proteins are at least 1.5 times stronger than all other biologically derived adhesives to date, and they have the ability to adhere under a wide range of pH values.


  • Strong adhesion under fully hydrated conditions
  • Simple, systematic synthesis
  • Active for a wide range of pH conditions