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The tiny bacteria, Caulobacter crescentus, produces a natural super glue that could help in the development of a stronger medical adhesive. (Courtesy: Yves Brun)

Bacteria that live in rivers and streams make nature's strongest-known glue to stay in place on wet surfaces – a finding that could lead to stronger medical adhesive.

Scientists found the tiny bacteria, Caulobacter crescentus, can resist a pull of 70 newtons per square millimetre. In comparison, commercial super glues break when a force of 18 to 28 newtons per square millimetre is applied.

Biodegradable surgical adhesive is one potential application of the glue, said Yves Brun, a bacteriologist at Indiana University Bloomington.

Brun and his colleagues at Brown University in Providence, R.I., measured the force needed to remove a single bacterium from a glass pipette. They repeated the experiment 14 times.

The bacteria attach themselves to rocks and waterpipes with a long, slender stalk dotted with a sticky chain of sugar molecules.

The sugars are the source of the stickiness, the researchers report in the April 11 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The challenge will be to produce large quantities of this glue without it sticking to everything that is used to produce it," Brun said in a release.

When the team tried to wash the glue off, it wouldn't work, he said.

Caulobacter crescentus live in nutrient-poor environments, including fixtures for tap water. It does not produce any toxins.