The natural way to repel boarders at sea

By Peter Hadfield in Tokyo SEA trials of a nontoxic paint that prevents the fouling of ships’ hulls by mussels and barnacles are under way in Japan. The paint is based on a synthetic variant of a naturally occurring compound and does not leach damaging chemicals into the ocean. When organisms such as mussels and barnacles settle on the underside of a ship’s hull, they disturb the smooth flow of water, which increases drag and so adds to fuel costs. Researchers at Japan’s Marine Biotechnology Institute in Shimizu City have discovered a substance that mussels and barnacles detest. Called tribromogramine (TBG), the compound is produced by Zoobotryon pellucidum, a bryozoan that lives on tidal rocks. TBG interferes with the neurotransmitter serotonin in the larvae of barnacles and mussels by blocking its receptors. This prevents the larvae from settling. The bryozoan uses the substance to protect its habitat. The Japanese team has now synthesised more than 500 compounds that have similar characteristics to TBG. “Antifouling paints work by killing barnacles and mussels, so they are highly toxic,” says the institute’s chief researcher Yoshikazu Shizuri. But the new compound merely repels the creatures rather than killing them. “According to our data it is safe, but we are now conducting field tests to check it,” says Shizuri. “We need to monitor it for a long time to be sure there is no effect on marine organisms.” Existing antifouling paints poison other sea life such as whelks and oysters. The worst offenders, tin-based compounds known as organotins,
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