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A mussel (genus Mytilus), attached to a rock by its byssus
Illustration of the byssus of Dreissena polymorpha, the freshwater zebra mussel

A byssus /ˈbɪsəs/ is a bundle of filaments secreted by many species of bivalve mollusk that function to attach the mollusk to a solid surface. Species from several families of clams have a byssus, including the pen shells, the true mussels and the false mussels: the Pinnidae, the Mytilidae and the Dreissenidae.

Byssus cloth is a rare fabric, also known as sea silk, that is made using the byssus of pen shells as the fiber source.


Byssus filaments are created by certain kinds of marine and freshwater bivalve mollusks, which use the byssus to attach themselves to rocks, substrates, or seabeds. In edible mussels, the inedible byssus is commonly known as the "beard", and is removed before cooking.

Byssus often refers to the long, fine, silky threads secreted by the large Mediterranean pen shell, Pinna nobilis. The byssus threads from this Pinna species can be up to 6 cm in length and have historically been made into cloth.[citation needed]

Many species of mussels secrete byssus threads to anchor themselves to surfaces, with families including the Arcidae, Mytilidae, Anomiidae, Pinnidae, Pectinidae, Dreissenidae, and Unionidae.[citation needed]

When a mussel's foot encounters a crevice, it creates a vacuum chamber by forcing out the air and arching up, similar to a plumber's plunger unclogging a drain. The byssus, which is made of keratin, quinone-tanned proteins (polyphenolic proteins), and other proteins, is spewed into this chamber in liquid form, and bubbles into a sticky foam. By curling its foot into a tube and pumping the foam, the mussel produces sticky threads about the size of a human hair. The mussel then varnishes the threads with another protein, resulting in an adhesive.[citation needed]

Byssus is a remarkable adhesive, one that is neither degraded nor deformed by water as synthetic adhesives are.[citation needed] This property has spurred genetic engineers to insert mussel DNA into yeast cells for translating the genes into the appropriate proteins.[1]


  1. ^ Robert L. Strausberg; et al. (31 December 1989). "Development of a Microbial System for Production of Mussel Adhesive Protein". Adhesives from Renewable Resources. ACS Symposium Series. 385. pp. 453–464. doi:10.1021/bk-1989-0385.ch032. ISBN 978-0-8412-1562-7.


External links

  • The dictionary definition of Byssus at Wiktionary
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