When someone says the word mistletoe, images of kissing at Christmas automatically spring to mind. But what if we told you that the berries from this festive plant can be used for much more than just locking lips? Ancient civilizations have featured these berries in a wide variety of medicines, including treatments for cancer, epilepsy, and infertility.
Researchers from McGill University and the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces recently published a paper exploring a new application of the plant. Through simple processing, mistletoe can be transformed into a biodegradable and bio-renewable glue – called viscin – with a range of impressive applications.
Senior author Matthew Harrington actually stumbled across this discovery by chance. He explained: “I had never seen mistletoe before living in Germany. So, when my daughter was playing with a berry from a mistletoe we bought from a local Christmas market, and it started sticking to everything, I was intrigued.”
Viscin is composed of fibers that firmly attach themselves together as well as to a wide range of materials when wet, including anything from bones, to wood, to feathers, to skin. The glue can also be stretched into a thin film and assembled into 3D layers, sparking interest in possible uses as a wound sealant.
“The fact that viscin can adhere to both wood and skin or feathers, may be relevant evolutionarily speaking,” adds Harrington. “But it’s harder to explain adherence to various synthetic surfaces, such as plastics, glass, and metal alloys, from an adaptive point of view. So viscin may simply represent highly versatile adhesion chemistry, which is what makes it so interesting to explore what is going on chemically.”
Not only is mistletoe glue strong but also highly accessible, with these plants being in abundance and the processing steps from plant to glue being relatively straightforward. All of this points to the impressive plants being much more than a holiday ornament in the future.
Source study: PNAS Nexus – Mistletoe viscin: a hygro- and mechano-responsive cellulose-based adhesive for diverse material applications