|Photo by Yves Brun|
Once again, microbial tools may be able to offer humans an opportunity for medical advancement. Some aquatic bacteria produce a sticky substance that allows them to adhere to solid surfaces. One aquatic bacterium, Caulobacter crescentus, produces a natural glue that is almost 4 times stronger than commercial super glue.
Though this ultra strong waterproof adhesive would be useful to us, Caulobacter has its own use for this glue. These bacteria have two different cells forms, stalked and swarmer. The swarmer cells are mobile cells that are directed by chemicals in the environment, a processes called chemotaxis. Once the chemicals lead the cells to a desirable place to settle, they grow a stalk and adhere themselves to the solid surface, becoming a stalked cell. Secreting the sugary glue and sticking to this surface allows the cells to take advantage of the nutrient rich surroundings.
Picture by Gregory T. Marczynski and Lucy Shapiro
Many of the properties that make this glue useful to the bacteria would make it useful to us as a medical glue. The first obvious advantage is that the glue is waterproof because it is produced by an aquatic cell. The next big advantage comes from the strength of the substance. It takes the equivalent of 5 tons per square inch to break the bond the bacteria makes with a solid surface. But most importantly for medical use, this glue is non-toxic. This bacteria, like many others, is not a stranger to humans. In fact, at some point, you probably have ingested this bacteria without knowing it. It likes to attach to the inside of water pipes and can often be found in our tap water.
Though it would be great to use this glue in the operating room tomorrow, it is going to take some time to figure out how to make that possible. One problem with using a substance made by a microscopic germ is the quantity being produced. Not only are the cells extremely small, but this sticky substance is made in small amounts at very specific times. Making a glue this strong, the cells are going to secrete it only when they are sure that this is the place they want to stay. Along with a better understanding of what specifically makes up the adhesive, we also need to explore the attachment surface's properties. The parts of the human body that would be fused by this glue during surgery are much different from a water pipe or other typical Caulobacter attachment sites. Despite the challenges, we may be able to take advantage of this natural super glue in a few short years.