Insanely Strong Molecular Glue, Inspired by Flesh-Eating Bacteria

If you've ever stuck your fingers together with super glue, you know pain. But imagine sticking them together with glue that bonds materials at the molecular level: that's real pain. It's also what scientists are doing, with the help of flesh-eating bacteria.

A team of researchers from the University of Oxford has created a molecular glue inspired by Streptococcus pyogenes, which can cause flesh-eating diseases, reports PhysOrg. In fact, the team was interested in a single protein: one which the bacterium uses to bind and invade human cells. "The protein is special because it naturally reacts with itself and forms a lock," explains Dr Mark Howarth, one of the researchers.

Taking that single protein as a design cue, they've developed a molecular glue which uses the same concepts. Their new protein forms covenant bonds when it comes into contact with a partner protein. The bonds it forms are so strong that, when they tested a sample, the equipment used to measure the strength broke before the glue.

As well as being incredibly strong, the technology can be used to make highly selective adhesives: the binding proteins adhere to themselves, but not to other entities. All that remains is to develop ways of incorporating the proteins into other molecular structures in order to create insanely strong, selective glues. [PhysOrg; Image: Will Fuller]