This Bio-Inspired Gel is 90% Water

Today we're talking about super-releasers. Not the robotics R&D lab (and home of this here blog) but the concept of reengineering nature. The short version is that a super-releaser is an artificial stimulus that outperforms the natural equivalent. The classic example comes from an experiment where baby seagull chicks peck at a spot on their mother's beak to receive regurgitated food (isn't nature beautiful?). If you count number of pecks per second and then create fake seagull mom heads to show the chicks you can optimize that number until you're getting behaviors that are way more exuberant than the original presentation.

This concept carries into bio-inspired engineering, where we're trying to understand what core properties are in play to make a natural system work and then apply them to engineering problems. Since we have the opportunity to hop straight over steps that would have been required in an evolutionary process, we can optimize these properties initially observed in nature into an even better pattern.

MIT has come up with an adhesive hydrogel inspired by the incredibly adhesive mucus that anchors mussels to rocks. Since mussels live on wave-battered rocks their entire lives it's essential that they've got a robust method for attaching themselves. Like hagfish, they employ an adhesive that is mostly water with only a small percentage of other chemicals to pull it into a structure.

This hydrogel could have bio-adhesive applications, such as replacing sutures in a skin graft or forming a suspension medium for implanted stem cells.