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Science and Technology

Molecular Velcro makes surfaces harder, smoother

Imagine a world where a spray-on gel could make make cars and boats corrosion-proof, airplanes more aerodynamic, the flow in wastewater treatment plants faster and prevent surfaces from harboring bacteria.

That protective coating, invisible to the naked eye, may not be too far away according to Arch Biopartners. Within two years, principal scientist Randy Irvin says the initial application will be a methanol-based spray on for stainless steel boats. Here are some other possible applications:

  • Military-a bullet dipped in this gel may penetrate hard surfaces better
  • Medical-a catheter with the molecular Velcro could prevent biofilm formation from bacteria

Irvin has partnered with the University of Cincinnati's Dr. Dan Hassett, professor in the department of molecular genetics. Irvin and Hassett believe they are the first to discover this new application and say they've had interest from a variety of different industries.
Here's how it works

On the end of bacteria are small retractable hair-like structures called pili. A small piece of the pilus, called the receptor binding domain, (RBD) binds to various surfaces. When studying its reaction to metal, scientists have discovered that it creates a new material with different properties:

  • increased hardness
  • resistance to corrosion
  • higher electron work function
  • lower surface adhesion properties
  • prevents biofilm formation by bacteria

Irvin and Hassett are exploiting this chemistry by using synthetic RBDs. They mix the peptide with polyethylene glycol, called D-PEG. The new surface is called BORG. (bioorganic).