(Un)expected Similarity of the Temporary Adhesive Systems of Marine, Brackish, and Freshwater Flatworms

Philip Bertemes, Robert Pjeta, Julia Wunderer, Alexander Grosbusch, Birgit Lengerer, Kevin Grüner, Magdalena Knapp, Birte Mertens, Nikolas Andresen, Michael W. Hess, Sara Tomaiuolo, Armin Zankel, Patrik Holzer, Willi Salvenmoser, Bernhard Egger, Peter Ladurner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many free-living flatworms have evolved a temporary adhesion system, which allows them to quickly attach to and release from diverse substrates. In the marine Macrostomum lignano, the morphology of the adhesive system and the adhesion-related proteins have been characterised. However, little is known about how temporary adhesion is performed in other aquatic environments. Here, we performed a 3D reconstruction of the M. lignano adhesive organ and compared it to the morphology of five selected Macrostomum, representing two marine, one brackish, and two freshwater species. We compared the protein domains of the two adhesive proteins, as well as an anchor cell-specific intermediate filament. We analysed the gene expression of these proteins by in situ hybridisation and performed functional knockdowns with RNA interference. Remarkably, there are almost no differences in terms of morphology, protein regions, and gene expression based on marine, brackish, and freshwater habitats. This implies that glue components produced by macrostomids are conserved among species, and this set of two-component glue functions from low to high salinity. These findings could contribute to the development of novel reversible biomimetic glues that work in all wet environments and could have applications in drug delivery systems, tissue adhesives, or wound dressings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12228
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Aquatic
  • Duo-gland adhesive system
  • Glue
  • In situ hybridisation
  • Macrostomum
  • Non-permanent adhesion
  • RNA interference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Catalysis
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology

Treatment code (Nähere Zuordnung)

  • Basic - Fundamental (Grundlagenforschung)

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