The need for new strategies in life sciences demands strategic investments in key technologies to incite innovation across existing and emerging sectors. The 7th Framework Programme of the European Research Area has identified biological adhesion (bioadhesion) as a promising sector in the foundation of tomorrow’s technologies by providing an Intra-European Fellowship for Dr. Marcelo Rodrigues on the subject of biological adhesion. This project —which started April 2014—, is hosted by Dr. Peter Ladurner and Prof. Bert Hobmayer, both from Institute of Zoology at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.
The capability of attachment, either temporary or permanent, of an organism to a surface is referred to as “bioadhesion”. Bioadhesion occurs in many organisms, ranging from microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, through much larger and complex marine algae, invertebrates, and terrestrial vertebrates. By providing information on how animals solve problems of adherence in diverse environments, such a subject offers models for bio-inspired technology with major applicability in the fields of surface engineering and biomedicine. Recent advances in biotechnology have made available a wide range of applicable research tools and techniques, but our knowledge of natural adhesive systems remains distant from the engineering of innovative adhesives for specific industrial, surgical, and medical needs. Although initially found in traditional research on histology, biochemistry and mechanics, bioadhesion is little by little entering the genomic and proteomic era by appearing in complex functional studies, such as on mussels, barnacles, sandcastle worms, starfishes, and flatworms. Taking into account that efforts to develop bioadhesives are most effective when guided by a detailed understanding of the key features and mechanisms of natural adhesives, in this project I intend to use cutting-edge methods in molecular biology and protein identification techniques to explore the mechanism by which the freshwater cnidarian Hydra magnipapillata (Cnidaria, Hydridae) adheres to the substrate. Firstly, I will conduct differential transcriptome analysis of H. magnipapillata in order to attain the full complement of genes expressed in Hydra’s “basal disk”, which is the region of the animal that attaches to the substrate; secondly, in-situ hybridization screening will provide the (temporal and) spatial expression of target genes; thirdly, RNA interference will allow for elucidating the function of selected genes. Furthermore, in this proposal I will move from a descriptive compilation of adhesive related genes to the functional characterization of the proteins by mass spectrometry so as to elucidate post-translational protein modifications and even the path for future biotechnological applications.
Using groundbreaking technologies at the very forefront of molecular biology and protein analysis, HydraGlue project will characterize the molecular components and mechanisms present in Hydra adhesion to potentially deliver new strategies that anticipate and/or shed light on current bioadhesive engineering. The project aims specifically at making a major breakthrough in bioadhesion via the following objectives:
- Exploiting the full potential of NGS technologies to generate a list of candidate genes involved in adhesion.
- Identifying the temporal and spatial expression of target genes to elucidate how adhesion functions.
- Characterizing the proteins involved in adhesion and its post-translational modifications.
- Evaluating the nature and spatial distribution of carbohydrate residues on proteins involved in adhesion.
The challenge of the project is to understand the mode of action of these systems, their unifying themes and function-specific adaptations, as well as to transform this knowledge into technology by offering the basic knowledge for developing new synthetic biomimetic adhesives with improved performance.