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Title: Biological adhesion in wet environments : adaptations and mechanisms
Author: Kang, Victor
ISNI:       0000 0004 9359 7765
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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Physiochemical conditions in water are fundamentally different to those in air; hence, organisms require special adaptations to adhere in wet environments. In my thesis, I have investigated three study systems to elucidate mechanisms for adhesion under wet conditions. In Chapters 2 and 3, I explore an aquatic insect (Diptera: Blephariceridae) that uses suction organs to attach to rocks in raging alpine torrents. Suction-based attachment is driven by physical processes requiring a pressure difference and a seal to maintain it. Through my investigations, I have identified several key principles for biological suction attachments to wet and rough surfaces. Using three-dimensional reconstructions of blepharicerid suction organs and in vivo visualisation of the adhesive contact zone, I found several internal and external morphological adaptations that are important for strong adhesion under water. Moreover, I characterised a mechanism for rapid detachment which is the first detailed account of an actively controlled detachment system in biological suction organs. In Chapter 4, I investigate the contribution of physical and chemical mechanisms to the powerful attachment of common limpets (Patella vulgata) to rocks in the intertidal zone. I demonstrate that suction is not the primary contributor to their attachment forces; rather, it is their adhesive pedal mucus that is responsible. This adhesive mucus comprises of a complex mixture of glycans and proteins, many of which share homology with adhesive secretions from other marine invertebrates, such as sea stars, sea anemones, and flatworms. In Chapters 5 and 6, I study the physical and chemical properties of sticky secretions from carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes) that help to capture, retain, and digest insects. I show that the viscoelastic pitcher fluid readily adheres to but not easily dewets from insect cuticle, and forms stable filaments as the insect attempts to escape that require significant work to overcome. In addition, the surface tension is reduced in pitcher fluid compared to water, making insects sink more easily into the former and facilitating further wetting of the cuticle. Chemical characterisation of the pitcher fluid revealed that its sticky filamentous property is caused by a polysaccharide with a glucurono-mannan backbone structure, which is chemically stable and contains carboxylic groups for strong interactions. Glucurono-mannan are an understudied group of plant polysaccharides that are present in mucilaginous secretions from across the plant kingdom, including sticky capture fluids from other carnivorous plants. My findings show that pitcher plant fluid can be used as a study system for future investigations into the origins and functional role of glucurono-mannan in carnivorous plants. In summary, my thesis has identified novel adaptations and principles for biological adhesion under wet conditions using three selected study systems, hence expanding our understanding of the underlying physical and chemical mechanisms and providing inspiration for biomimetic adhesives with improved performance in wet environments.
Supervisor: Federle, Walter Sponsor: EU Horizon 2020
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: biomechanics ; adhesion ; entomology ; suction organ ; bioadhesives