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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Tofu Super-glue

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth's Katie Zemtseff reports on yet another use for soybeans: wood glue.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood and coming up: an avian festival for the ears. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Katie Zemtseff.

ZEMTSEFF: There may be yet another use for the ever versatile soybean. And, it could prove a sticky solution for the wood industry.

Researcher Kaichang Li at Oregon State University discovered the legume could make super-strong glue. And, he credits his discovery to the humble sea muscle. These coastal mollusks have an uncanny ability to stick to rocks and cliffs, despite the ocean's crashing waves. Lee found the key to this clinginess in a single, muscle protein. He was able to synthetically recreate this protein but it was too costly to make in large quantities. So, while having a lunch of tofu one day, Lee wondered if the high-protein soybean could mimic the muscle protein. Turns out, that by mixing soy with amino acids that have had adhesive properties, he was able to make a sticky, soy by-product very similar to the muscle's protein. This soy glue can seep into wood crevices and pores where it solidifies, creating a virtually indestructible, waterproof glue. Today's wood glues are based in formaldehyde, which when heated, give off fumes that could pose a health hazard.

The soy-based glue is already in use at three mills and can be used in everything from home paneling to office desks. Along with milk, tofu, vegetable oil and bio diesel, this newest market is good news for soybean farmers. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Katie Zemtseff.



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