Mussels withstand high-energy wave impacts in rocky seashore habitats by fastening tightly to surfaces with tough and self-healing proteinaceous fibers called byssal threads. Thread mechanical behavior is believed to arise from reversibly breakable metal coordination cross-links embedded in histidine-rich protein domains (HRDs) in the principle load-bearing proteins comprising the fibrous thread core. In order to investigate HRD behavior at the molecular level, we have synthesized a histidine-rich peptide derived from mussel proteins (His5-bys) and studied its reversible adhesive self-interaction in the presence and absence of metal ions using PEG-based soft-colloidal probes (SCPs). Adhesion energies of greater than 0.3 mJ/m(2) were measured in the presence of metal ions, and the stiffness of the modified SCPs exhibited a 3-fold increase, whereas no adhesion was observed in the absence of metals. Raman spectroscopy confirmed the presence of metal-coordination via histidine residues by the peptide-supporting the role of His-metal complexes in the mechanical behavior of the byssus.
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