Mucins are large glycoproteins that are ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. Mucins coat the surfaces of many cell types and can be secreted to form mucus gels that assume important physiological roles in many animals. Our growing understanding of the structure and function of mucin molecules and their functionalities has sparked interest in investigating the use of mucins as building blocks for innovative functional biomaterials. These pioneering studies have explored how new biomaterials can benefit from the barrier properties, hydration and lubrication properties, unique chemical diversity, and bioactivities of mucins.
Owing to their multifunctionality, mucins have been used in a wide variety of applications, including as antifouling coatings, as selective filters, and artificial tears and saliva, as basis for cosmetics, as drug delivery materials, and as natural detergents. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge regarding key mucin properties and survey how they have been put to use. We offer a vision for how mucins could be used in the near future and what challenges await the field before biomaterials made of mucins and mucin-mimics can be translated into commercial products.