Complex coacervates as a foundation for synthetic underwater adhesives

Adv Colloid Interface Sci. 2011 Sep 14;167(1-2):85-93. doi: 10.1016/j.cis.2010.10.009. Epub 2010 Oct 31.


Complex coacervation was proposed to play a role in the formation of the underwater bioadhesive of the Sandcastle worm (Phragmatopoma californica) based on the polyacidic and polybasic nature of the glue proteins and the balance of opposite charges at physiological pH. Morphological studies of the secretory system suggested that the natural process does not involve complex coacervation as commonly defined. The distinction may not be important because electrostatic interactions likely play an important role in the formation of the sandcastle glue. Complex coacervation has also been invoked in the formation of adhesive underwater silk fibers of caddisfly larvae and the adhesive plaques of mussels. A process similar to complex coacervation, that is, condensation and dehydration of biopolyelectrolytes through electrostatic associations, seems plausible for the caddisfly silk. This much is clear, the sandcastle glue complex coacervation model provided a valuable blueprint for the synthesis of a biomimetic, water-borne, underwater adhesive with demonstrated potential for repair of wet tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesives / chemical synthesis
  • Adhesives / chemistry*
  • Adhesives / metabolism
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms* / chemistry
  • Aquatic Organisms* / metabolism
  • Biological Products / chemical synthesis
  • Biological Products / chemistry
  • Biological Products / metabolism
  • Colloids
  • Larva / chemistry
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data


  • Adhesives
  • Biological Products
  • Colloids