Karen L. Wooley, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, has noted the shape and texture of dolphin skin and how it naturally prevents marine creatures from clinging to dolphin skin. The observation fits into her study of finding ways to mediate interactions between biological systems and synthetic materials, designing chemical "functionalities," or groups of atoms, that either promote or discourage binding between them.
In one recent example, Wooley and collaborator John-Stephen A. Taylor, Ph.D., Washington University professor of chemistry, hope to employ nanoparticles that will take advantage of naturally occurring chemical interactions to deliver therapeutic drugs directly to diseased cells. At the same time, Wooley currently is developing a group of nontoxic "antifouling" coatings that may one day inhibit marine organisms such as barnacles, tube worms and zoo spores from attaching to, say, the hulls of ships.
"Basically if we understand how these various materials interact at the molecular level, then we can turn the interactions on or turn them off," said Wooley. "With the nanoparticles we want to turn them on; with the antifouling coatings materials we want to turn them off."
Fouling is a huge problem for the U.S. Navy as well as the commercial shipping industry. Marine organisms secrete a type of gluey adhesive protein and, over time, cause physical damage by promoting corrosion of the metal. However, the more pressing problem is their effect on a ship's performance -- the extra growth on the hull increases friction and drag, leading to increased energy consumption. And fouling is more than just an economic issue; a less fuel-efficient ship emit
Contact: Gerry Everding
Washington University in St. Louis