A musselís byssal threads are produced from within the shell by a byssal gland. They are small proteinaceous "ropes" extending from the muscular foot. Juvenile mussels, under 2 cm, can use their byssal threads like climbing ropes, extending, attaching, and pulling themselves forward in succession. Juvenile mussels can be fairly mobile using this mechanism. When they get too big, they essentially become sessile, but they can always regenerate new byssal threads and reattach if they become dislodged. The byssal threads have the amazing ability to have elastic properties while still retaining great strength (can stretch out to 160% of their length while still retaining 5 times the strength of our Achilleís tendon). These properties make it the object of much desire as one marine biochemical research team from the University of Delaware (under the supervision of J Herbert Waite) hopes to harness its properties with hopes of creating a material that can be used to make artificial tendons and ligaments for humans (Shulman 1998). Byssal threads are also amazing for the ability to adhere to substrate surfaces underwater. Each byssal thread is composed of three parts: a corrugated proximal region, a smooth distal region and an adhesive plaque that adheres to the substrate. In high-wave stress areas mussels may be able to orient and arrange the placement of their byssal threads to absorb to tension and load where they experience the most pull (Bell and Gosline 1996).
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© 2002 Laura Brentner, for educational purposes only