Various animals have invented fascinating adaptations to their natural habitats.
Several insects or the White Tree Frog for example are equipped with holdfasts on their feet which allow them to adhere on varying materials and even to transport weights headfirst. The adhesion is not only extremly strong but also finely regulable and reversible very quickly. This can be obtained by interaction of material property an micromechanics.
But evolution has even a recipe against this:
Anti-adhesive surfaces of plants show nanostructures which unable insects to adhere to them.
The carnivorous plant Nepenthes is an example for this. We try to characterize, understand and beneficially transfer the structurial and functionial correlations by biomechanic, physico-chemical and mathematical methods.
Several animals and plants have adapted themselves to extreme environments (e.g. sandy deserts) with partly highly specialized surfaces. Sandy deserts are relevantly hot, dry and offer very few possibilities for hiding or shelter.
The Scincus scincus – also called sandfish – has the ability to cover long distances in a surprisingly high speed while buried in sand.
The skin of the reptile plays a very important role because it reacts extremely anti-adhesive and resistant against abrasion in sand.
Sugarcarrying proteins are responsible for this. A surface coating on basis of the „sandfish-principle“ for example could highly increase the stability of solar cells in desert regions.
Other dwellers of the desert are champions in water economy. The skin of the Thorny Dragon (Moloch horridus) or the Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) is strongly structured and hydrophil. Even smallest dewdrops attach to the surface and are transported to the animal’s mouth through finest channels.
In this case we attempt to decode the basic principle for technical use as well.
Another focus of our research is the interaction of cells, in particular the adhesion. Special proteins on the cell-surface hold the cells of the body together. Essential is the fact that the adhesion between the cells indeed is firm so that our body doesn’t fall apart but at the same time the cells must be able to be dynamically uncoupled.
The disengagement of the bonds is important for the processes of growth, wound healing, learning, combustive reactions and so on. Unfortunately several things can go wrong during these processes. Tumor cells for example can temporary survive without contacts and develop metastases.
We attempt to understand and selectively influence some aspects oft he cell-cell-adhesion. For this purpose we use microscopical, cellbiological und biomechanical methods, particularly atomic force microscopy.