Researcher Dr Simone Dimartino harvests bull kelp at Shag
Point last week. Photo by Stephen Merchant.
Seaweed experiment in Dunedin may reach a sticky end.
University of Canterbury chemical engineering lecturer Dr
Simone Dimartino (31) said the idea for a commercial
water-resistant glue came to him on an Otago Peninsula walk.
He and his wife moved from Italy to Christchurch in November
2010 and the couple spent their first Kiwi Christmas in
As his wife looked skyward for albatrosses, he was transfixed
by the seaweed being battered by waves at the bottom of the
''I was mesmerised ... the seaweed was dancing on the
waves,'' Dr Dimartino said.
The ''huge power'' of the waves made the ''elegant organism''
''I thought 'Wow', for it to cling there, it must produce
something very sticky.''
The best man-made adhesives failed underwater, Dr Dimartino
said. He harvested bull kelp seaweed - male and female
plants- at Shag Point, north of Dunedin.
At the University of Otago, the kelp was taken outside and a
spotlight shone on its surface to trick it into believing
breeding conditions were optimal.
''They think it is beautiful weather to have babies - and
they start releasing the sperm and eggs,'' he said.
In a University of Otago laboratory, he assisted the
fertilisation and reproduction of kelp.
In his research, he used newborn kelp because it needed to
quickly produce mucilage- a thick, sticky, gluey substance -
to stick to a rock and stop being washed away by waves and
The Dunedin laboratory was the only South Island facility
that had the infra-red technology needed to probe a thin
layer of the kelp surface.
The experiments should reveal the chemical components of kelp
glue by the end of next year and then he would focus on
producing a synthetic counterpart of the glue for commercial
use, to ensure the sustainability of the seaweed.
''It's a unique kind of seaweed, present only here, Australia
The glue could be used by the nautical industry in water and
the medical profession in the ''wettest system ever'' - the
Medical applications for the glue could replace the stitching
of wounds and arteries.
A more specific application for the natural, biodegradable
and biocompatible glue would be connecting a detached
placenta to a pregnant woman's uterus to allow the baby to
feed again, Dr Dimartino said.