The longstanding puzzle as to how marine mussels remain attached to the hulls of ships or to shoreline rocks in spite of severe impacting waves is solved in Nature Communications this week. A clever distribution of materials in byssus threads is found to be able to absorb energy from impacting waves, providing potential design strategies for man-made structures.
The byssus threads of mussels -- known to chefs as the “beards” that must be removed before cooking -- can firmly attach the body of a mussel to a range of surfaces. However, the strength of both the connection with the surface and the threads themselves are less than the force of the impacting waves, making it unclear how they are able to remain attached. Markus Buehler and colleagues isolated the specific structural and composite material design principles in the threads that allow for this emphatic energy absorption, mitigating the power of the waves.
Such an efficient, yet simple, architecture has clear application in inspiring artificial designs where energy absorption is required, with one possible example being for the design of structures in earthquake affected zones.