A lubricant-infused polymer could reduce the problem of fouling, in which mussels, barnacles and other organisms encrust themselves to ship hulls and marine pipes. The polymer tested by Shahrouz Amini and colleagues tricks mussels into thinking that the coated surface is not strong enough to attach to – making the animals less likely to produce their usual adhesive threads – and lowers the adhesion of the threads. Fouling is a significant economic problem, creating drag on boats that increases their fuel consumption, clogging circulation pipes in ports and sometimes introducing exotic organisms that devastate local ecosystems. The coating material used by the researchers contains a lubricant confined in the top layer of the polymer that does not react with seawater. In laboratory and in real-life tests on ship hulls, mussels explored the coating with their muscular feet, but appeared to judge the surfaces as too soft to produce the usual protein filaments called byssal threads that they use to attach themselves. The polymer outperformed some of the top commercial anti-fouling coatings, and the authors say it may work against a number of fouling organisms, including tunicate worms and slime.
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