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Fighting bacteria with mucus
Date:11/8/2012

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Slimy layers of bacterial growth, known as biofilms, pose a significant hazard in industrial and medical settings. Once established, biofilms are very difficult to remove, and a great deal of research has gone into figuring out how to prevent and eradicate them.

Results from a recent MIT study suggest a possible new source of protection against biofilm formation: polymers found in mucus. The MIT biological engineers found that these polymers, known as mucins, can trap bacteria and prevent them from clumping together on a surface, rendering them harmless.

"Mucus is a material that has developed over millions of years of evolution to manage our interactions with the microbial world. I'm sure we can find inspiration from it for new strategies to help prevent infections and bacterial colonization," says Katharina Ribbeck, the Eugene Bell Career Development Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering and senior author of the paper, which appears in the Nov. 8 online edition of the journal Current Biology.

Mucin coatings may help prevent biofilm formation on medical devices and could also find applications in personal hygiene: Incorporating them into products such as toothpaste or mouthwash may supplement the body's own defenses, especially in people whose natural mucus has been depleted, Ribbeck says.

Lead authors of the Current Biology paper are former MIT postdoc Marina Caldara and Ronn Friedlander, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Other authors are Nicole Kavanaugh, an MIT graduate student in biology; Joanna Aizenberg, a professor of materials science at Harvard University; and Kevin Foster, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Oxford.

How to stop bacteria from teaming up

Mucus normally lines most of the wet surfaces of the body, including the respiratory and digestive tracts. "The textbook view of mucu
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Contact: Sarah McDonnell
s_mcd@mit.edu
617-253-8923
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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