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Mistletoe berries have surprising healing properties

Many centuries ago, ancient Celtic cultures believed that mistletoe was a “universal healer” with medicinal qualities that could boost health and fertility. Now, a study led by McGill University confirms that mistletoe can be very beneficial to human health by sealing wounds for days at a time. 

Mistletoe berries produce a sticky thread known as viscin that is strong enough to seal wounds. In collaboration with experts at the Max Planck Institute, the team found that wet viscin fibers can transform into films that rigidly and transparently adhere to surfaces as they dry.

“The sealant remained flexible, allowing free movement when performing everyday tasks and was resistant even to brief water rinsing,” wrote the researchers. “To remove the seal from the tissue, friction could be used by simply rubbing the sealed area.”

Study lead author Matthew Harrington’s research is primarily focused on exploring natural adhesives to create advanced bio-inspired materials. He said the fact that viscin can adhere to both wood and fur or feathers may be evolutionarily relevant. 

“But it is more difficult to explain the adhesion to various synthetic surfaces, such as plastics, glass and metal alloys, from an adaptive point of view,” said Harrington. “So, viscin may just represent a very versatile adhesion chemistry, which is what makes it so interesting to explore what happens chemically.”

This is the first time researchers have investigated the potential medical uses of the glue found in mistletoe berries. Next, the experts hope to gain a better understanding of the chemistry of viscin film for replication.

Study first author Nils Horbelt said he wore the adhesive on his skin for three days and found it flexible enough to move without breaking.

“I wore a thin film of viscin on my skin for three days to observe its adhesive qualities and was able to remove it from my fingers afterwards by simply rubbing them together,” said Horbelt. “But there still remain many questions about this very unusual material.”

The study is published in the journal PNAS Nexus.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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