A study by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) published in Scientific Reports concludes that the proteins used in tough natural adhesives that help barnacles cling to rocks are similar to those found in insect silks. It has long been known that barnacles are more closely related to insects than mussels and tubeworms, and the similarity in their adhesive chemistry may point to a closer relationship than has previously been considered.
The research heralds the discovery of a previously unknown class of specialized proteins, and the mesh-like adhesive structures that barnacles produce is more complex than expected, consisting of over 50 proteins and enzymes. The proteins are made up of flexible amino acids arranged in repetitive sequences, and it is these sequences of amino acids that indicate the similarity of barnacle adhesive to insect or spider silk.
The NRL’s discovery not only sheds light on one of nature’s toughest adhesives but will provide valuable information to shipbuilders seeking to solve the problem of barnacle accumulation on ships’ hulls.