Scientists have long known that barnacles produce two different components as part of their bioadhesive, but previous assumptions about the process have been disproven by the new research, which was sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research. Many scientists studying barnacles previously thought that the two compounds were mixed to form a fast-setting glue that could stick the barnacle to a rock outcropping or ship’s hull. It was a reasonable conclusion, given how many synthetic glues work.
Using advanced microscopy techniques, the team was able to observe the binding process as barnacles plant themselves in the spot where they will live out the rest of their days. As the larval creature settles over its intended target, it releases a drop of an oily compound (a lipid) that displaces water from the surface. It then excretes a second phosphoprotein compound — the actual glue — to stick itself to the now “dry” underwater surface.