Most, if not all of the furniture we own, has been assembled or held together by adhesives containing common toxins. As such, researchers from Purdue University have created an alternative, toxin-free adhesive inspired by underwater creatures.

“We want to be able to reduce the daily exposure we all have to common toxins, and this type of materials development could lead to a giant leap in sustainability,” said Amelia Putnam, a doctoral research chemist, who serves as a senior member of the research team.

The adhesive, which takes inspiration from underwater creatures, does not contain formaldehyde, which is a major ingredient found in common glues such as the those used to manufacture composite wood products or used in construction.

Currently, the EPA is attempting to regulate how much formaldehyde can be released from products containing common glues.

“Our adhesives mimic some of those found in the seas and might be able to solve two problems that we are facing currently — creating bonds using less toxic materials as well as having improved functions such as degradability,” said Jonathan Wilker, a Purdue professor of chemistry and materials engineering, who helps lead the research team. “We have been able to make progress here by first learning how marine mussels stick themselves to rocks.”

To develop their adhesive, researchers have been growing mussels in their laboratory to observe how the creatures attach. Using that data, the team then generates a variety of synthetic versions of that adhesive, which is capable of producing materials with strong bonds and that work underwater.

Along with possible applications for food packaging, the team envisions using the adhesives on materials such as cardboard, which, using current adhesives, is impossible to compost.

“Another potential advantage of our adhesives is that they may be broken down, allowing bonded components to be separated for recycling,” Putnam said.

For more information, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of Purdue University.

To contact the author of this article, email