These researchers artificially reproduce the structure of mucus!

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Mucus is used to retain pathogenic microbes and is therefore part of the defense elements of our body. US researchers have successfully reproduced the complex structure of natural mucus. For scientists, this could pave the way for future treatments for infectious diseases.

Artificial mucus that does not induce any resistance

Mucus gathers different viscous secretions and translucent. They line our noses and other organs that are open to the outside, as well as our digestive and urinary tracts. Generally speaking, mucus protects organs from bacterial infections and other pathogenic viruses. This type of substance is made up of mucins, these large proteins containing glycans in abundance. Remember that glycans are polymers made from monosaccharides (sugar). These can stop bacteria but also disarm them. This is because glycans prevent bacteria from secreting toxins and adhering to cells. They also prevent them from communicating with each other.

For researchers at MIT (United States) whose study was published in the journal ACS Central Science on March 30, 2021, mucus represents a additional potential weapon against germs. The main target is multiresistant bacteria. You should know that mucins simply deactivate bacteria and do not induce any resistance. On the contrary, the role of antibiotics is to kill these same bacteria, but the latter develop resistance. Let us recall in passing that the antibiotic resistance is today a real public health problem according to the WHO.

Promising but incomplete research

In their publication, the researchers explain that making mucus is far from easy. However, they still managed to produce some using a polymer backbone. Specifically, scientists have resorted to the Ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP). This technique has existed since the 1970s, and has been widely used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. It consists in opening a carbon cycle in order to form a linear molecule in which there is a carbon-carbon double bond. Then these molecules can form long polymers.

In order to obtain good results, ROMP requires the use of a metal catalyst which will make it possible to choose the configuration of the molecule. It can be “cis” or “trans”, the cis version of synthetic polymers – more elongated – being all the same closer to natural mucin. The researchers then exposed their artificial mucus to the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, responsible for cholera (see image below). Elongated polymers are more successful and are also more soluble in water. Making eye drops and skin moisturizers is therefore worth considering.

Credit: Dartmouth College / Wikimedia Commons

Now, US scientists are working on the different possible combinations in connection with the integration of glycans. You should know that these can act on such or such bacteria. However, this is a real headache insofar as the mucus can contain hundreds of different glycans!

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