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Ivy sticks out its powerful grasp to science

Autumn-colored ivy climbs the wall of a building in downtown Copenhagen November 2, 2010.  REUTERS/Bob Strong  (DENMARK - Tags: ENVIRONMENT)
Autumn-colored ivy climbs the wall of a building in downtown Copenhagen November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong (DENMARK - Tags: ENVIRONMENT)

Washington: The powerful grasp of English ivy can lead to better medical adhesives, stronger armor for the military and maybe even cosmetics with better staying power.

The Ohio State University research illuminates the tiny particles responsible for ivy’s ability to latch on so tight to trees and buildings that it can withstand hurricanes and tornadoes.

The researchers pinpointed the spherical particles within English ivy’s adhesive and identified the primary protein within them.

“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 Lead researcher Mingjun Zhang, adding “It’s a milestone to resolve this mystery. We now know the secret of this adhesive and the underlying molecular mechanism.”

The researchers found that when climbing, ivy secretes these tiny nanoparticles which make initial surface contact. Due to their high uniformity and low viscosity, they can attach to large areas on various surfaces. After the water evaporates, a chemical bond forms. “It’s really a nature-made amazing mechanism for high-strength adhesion,” said Zhang.

In addition to its strength, ivy adhesive has other properties that make it appealing to scientists looking for answers to engineering quandaries, Zhang said.

“Under moisture or high or low temperatures, it is not easily damaged,” he said. “Ivy is very resistant to various environmental conditions, which makes the adhesive a particularly interesting candidate for the development of armor coatings.”

Ivy also is considered a pest because it can be destructive to buildings and bridges. Knowing what’s at the heart of its sticking ability could help scientists unearth approaches to resist the plant, Zhang said.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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