Biology offers a valuable inspiration toward the development of self-healing engineering composites and polymers. In particular, chemical level design principles extracted from proteinaceous biopolymers, especially the mussel byssus, provide inspiration for design of autonomous and intrinsic healing in synthetic polymers. The mussel byssus is an acellular tissue comprised of extremely tough protein-based fibers, produced by mussels to secure attachment on rocky surfaces. Threads exhibit self-healing response following an apparent plastic yield event, recovering initial material properties in a time-dependent fashion. Recent biochemical analysis of the structure–function relationships defining this response reveal a key role of sacrificial cross-links based on metal coordination bonds between Zn2+
ions and histidine amino acid residues. Inspired by this example, many research groups have developed self-healing polymeric materials based on histidine (imidazole)–metal chemistry. In this review, we provide a detailed overview of the current understanding of the self-healing mechanism in byssal threads, and an overview of the current state of the art in histidine- and imidazole-based synthetic polymers.
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