MIT News reports have created synthetic mucins - the key ingredient of mucus - which could lead to new antibacterial treatments, because it turns out that, more than just being messy, mucus can help fend off the microorganisms.
[Laura] Kiessling and [Katharina] Ribbeck joined forces to try to create mucus-inspired materials in 2018, with funding from a Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grant. The primary building blocks of mucus are mucins - long, bottlebrush-like proteins with many sugar molecules called glycans attached. Ribbeck has discovered that these mucins disrupt many key functions of infectious bacteria, including their ability to secrete toxins, communicate with each other, and attach to cellular surfaces.
Those features have led many scientists to try to generate artificial versions that could help prevent or treat bacterial infection. However, mucins are so large that it has been difficult to replicate their structure accurately. Each mucin polymer has a long backbone consisting of thousands of amino acids, and many different glycans can be attached to these backbones.