Ivy's newly uncovered superglue may heal wounds and coat combat armor

Original news release was issued by The Ohio State University, written by Misti Crane.

It turns out that the much hated pest, English ivy, has unique qualities with mechanisms that have now been uncovered by researchers at The Ohio State University. The findings could prove immensely useful in medicine, as well as in reinforcing defensive systems for the military. We are talking about ivy’s natural glue that makes it stick to walls and surfaces like nothing else – to the point where it’s strong enough to comfortably withstand hurricanes and tornadoes.

Researchers have looked very closely at what exactly is the secret behind ivy’s adhesive properties with a powerful atomic-force microscope, and identified the primary protein within the previously unknown nanoparticles that the plant secretes.

“By understanding the proteins that give rise to ivy’s strength, we can give rise to approaches to engineer new bio-inspired adhesives for medical and industry products,” said Mingjun Zhang, the biomedical engineering professor who led the work.

“Ivy has these very tiny hairy structures that have a wonderful interaction with the surface as the plant climbs. One day I was looking at the ivy in the backyard and I was amazed at the force,” Zhang said.

“It’s a milestone to resolve this mystery. We now know the secret of this adhesive and the underlying molecular mechanism,” said Zhang, who focuses his work on finding answers in nature for vexing problems in medicine.

The tiny particles inside the glue turned out to be primarily made up of arabinogalactan proteins. And when the scientists investigated further, they discovered that the driving force behind the curing of the glue was a calcium-mediated interaction between the proteins and pectin in the gelatinous liquid that oozes from ivy as it climbs.

Zhang said particles rich in those proteins have exceptional adhesive abilities – abilities that could be used to the advantage of many, from biomedical engineers to paint makers. Bioadhesives like this one could aid in wound healing after injuries and surgeries, but apart from being remarkably adhesive, it is also extremely resistant to various environmental conditions. This is why the U.S. military has expressed interest in ivy glue surface-coating applications for strengthening of armor systems.

To confirm what they found, Zhang and his colleagues used the nanoparticles to reconstruct a simple glue that mimics ivy adhesive. Advanced bioadhesives based on this research will take more time and research.