Double Network Gels and the Toughness of Terrestrial Slug Glue

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The terrestrial slug produces a defensive secretion that is sticky and tough, despite being a dilute gel. It is unusual in having high stiffness for a gel, yet retaining the high extensibility typical of mucus. In tensile tests, it sustains an average peak stress of 101 kPa, and fails at an average strain of 9.5. This gives the gel toughness; it requires much greater strain energy to fracture than most gels. This toughness may arise from a double-network type mechanism. In this mechanism, two separate, interpenetrating networks of polymers with different properties combine to give toughness that can be several orders of magnitude greater than either network individually. Native gel electrophoresis suggests that glue consists of two networks: a network of negatively charged proteins ranging in from 40x10 to 220x10 that can be dissociated by hydroxylamine and a network of heparan sulfate-like proteoglycans. The two networks are not tightly linked, though proteins of 40x10 and 165x10 may associate with the carbohydrates. Targeted disruption of either network separately, using enzymatic hydrolysis, disulfide bond breakage or imine bond disruption completely disrupted the glue, resulting in no measurable toughness. Thus, the two networks separately provide little toughness, but together they work synergistically to create a tough material, as predicted in the double-network mechanism.

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Journal of Experimental Biology

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