The word Byssus has two related meanings, and one rather different one, according to the context:

IN BIOLOGY: The s created by numerous different kinds of marine and freshwater bivalve mollusks, by which they can attach themselves to hard substrates, or to the sea bed.

Families of bivalves that contain species which secrete a byssus include the Arcidae, Mytilidae, Anomiidae, Pinnidae, Pectinidae, Dreissenidae, Unionidae and others. The word byssus is also commonly used specifically in reference to the exceptionally long, fine, silky threads secreted by the very large Mediterranean pen shell, "Pinna nobilis". The byssus threads from this species of "Pinna" can be up to 6 cm in length and have historically been made into cloth, see below. IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY: An exceptionally fine and valuable fibre or cloth from ancient times, usually referred to as sea silk, which is made from the byssus of "Pinna nobilis". The word byssus (as applied to byssus cloth) appears in the Greek text of the Rosetta Stone [] , although this may possibly be a reference to fine linen cloth.

IN BOTANY: The rhizomorphs or grouped hyphae of certain fungi; these can physically resemble a byssus in form. ["The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: complete text reproduced micrographically." Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 1987, p. 1239.] []

This article is about the first two meanings of byssus.


The word byssus, plural "byssi", derives from the Hebrew "būṣ" 'fine linen,' Aramaic "bus", Greek "βύσσος" – 'a very fine yellowish flax and the linen woven from it', Latin "byssus" – 'fine cotton or cotton stuff', 'silk' and via New Latin to 'sea silk'. ["The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: complete text reproduced micrographically." Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 1987, p. 1239.] ["Webster's Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged)" 1976. G. & C. Merriam Co., p. 307]


Formation of byssus in mussels

Many species of mussels secrete byssus threads to attach themselves to rocks and other hard surfaces.

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, made of keratin 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. It varnishes the threads with another protein, resulting in an adhesive.

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


Other references

* Ecsedy, Hilda 1975. "Böz – An Exotic Cloth in the Chinese Imperial Court." Hilda Ecsedy. "Altorientalische Forschungen 3": pp. 145-153.
* Starr, Cecie and Taggart, Ralph. "Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life". Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning, Inc., 2004.
* Hill, John E. 2003. "The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu". A draft annotated translation from the Hou Hanshu - see Section 12 and note 15 plus Appendix B. []
* Hill, John E. 2004. "The Peoples of the West". A draft annotated translation of the 3rd century Weilüe - see Section 12 of the text and Appendix D. []
* McKinley, Daniel L. 1988. "Pinna and Her Silken Beard: A Foray Into Historical Misappropriations". "Ars Textrina: A Journal of Textiles and Costumes", Vol. Twenty-nine, June, 1998, Winnipeg, Canada. Pp. 9-223.
* Maeder, Felicitas 2002. "The project Sea-silk – Rediscovering an Ancient Textile Material." "Archaeological Textiles Newsletter", Number 35, Autumn 2002, pp. 8-11.
* Maeder, Felicitas, Hänggi, Ambros and Wunderlin, Dominik, Eds. 2004. "Bisso marino : Fili d’oro dal fondo del mare – Muschelseide : Goldene Fäden vom Meeresgrund". Naturhistoriches Museum and Museum der Kulturen, Basel, Switzerland. (In Italian and German).
* Turner, Ruth D. and Rosewater, Joseph 1958. "The Family Pinnidae in the Western Atlantic" "Johnsonia", Vol. 3 No. 38, June 28, 1958, pp. 285-326.

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  • byssus — [ bisys ] n. m. • 1530; mot lat., gr. bussos « lin très fin, coton » ♦ Faisceau de filaments soyeux, sécrétés par une glande de certains lamellibranches, leur permettant de se fixer. Byssus de la moule. « les coquilles porte soie dont le byssus… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Byssus — Bys sus, n.; pl. E. {Byssuses}; L. {Byssi}.[L. byssus fine flax, fine linen or cotton, Gr. by ssos .] [1913 Webster] 1. A cloth of exceedingly fine texture, used by the ancients. It is disputed whether it was of cotton, linen, or silk. [Written… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Byssus [1] — Byssus, 1) Barthaare der Muscheln, s. Bart (in anderer Bedeutung) 7); 2) Moderpilzgattung, viele sonst dazu gerechnete, staub od. faserartige kryptogamische Gewächse, auf einer der niedrigsten Stufen der Vegetation stehend, sind bei genauerer… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Byssus [2] — Byssus (gr.), 1) die feinste, weiße Baumwolle aus Indien u. Agypten, von mehreren Gattungen des Gossypium gewonnen, u. 2) das daraus verfertigte Zeug, s.u. Baumwolle. Die Byssusstaude zeichnet Pausanias als Gewächs in Griechenland, doch blos als… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Byssus [1] — Byssus, ehemals eine Pilzgattung, welche die sterilen Mycelfäden und Flocken verschiedener Pilzgruppen umfaßte …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Byssus [2] — Byssus (Muschelseide, Muschelfäden, Muschelbart), ein Bündel biegsamer Fäden, die viele Muscheln aus einer Drüse am Fuß absondern und zur Befestigung verwenden. Bei unsern Flußmuscheln ist die Byssusdrüse rudimentär, bei vielen Meeresmuscheln… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Byssus [3] — Byssus, durchschimmernde Gewebe verschiedener Feinheit aus weißen und gelblichen Leinenfäden. Die gröbere Sorte diente in Ober und Unterägypten zur Pharaoneuzeit als Umhüllung der Mumien. Die feinste und teuerste Sorte, an Wert dem Purpur… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Byssus — Byssus, im Altertum Baumwolle und daraus gefertigtes feines Gewebe (Sindones); jetzt die haar und fadenähnlichen hornigen Abscheidungen gewisser im Fuße gelegener Drüsen (Byssusdrüse) verschiedener Seemuscheln (Muschelseide), woraus Zeuge,… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • BYSSUS — lini species pretiosissima, e qua vestes mollissimae ac renuissimae conficiebautur. Unde dictum Parysatidis Reginae Persarum, in Regum alloquio utendum esse verbis Βυςςίνοις, i. e. mollissimis, ac lenissimis. Eius meminit Theocritus Idyllio 2.… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • byssus — [bis′əs] n. pl. byssuses or byssi [bis′ī] [L < Gr byssos, fine linen or cotton < Sem, as in Heb buts < Sem * b w tz, to be white] 1. a fine fabric, esp. a linen cloth, used by the ancients, as in Egypt for mummy wrapping 2. Zool. a tuft… …   English World dictionary

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