BIOGEL Laboratory

Katharina Ribbeck

July 2017

Congratulations to Tahoura Samad for winning the Collamore-Rogers Fellowship!

July 2017

The paper "Probing the potential of mucus permeability to signify preterm birth risk" by Kathryn Smith-Dupont, Caroline Wagner, Jacob Witten, Kelley Conroy, Hannah Rudoltz, Kelly Pagidas, Victoria Snegovskikh, Michael House, and Katharina Ribbeck has been accepted in Scientific Reports! Congratulations to all involved.

June 2017

Welcome to our newest lab member, Julie Takagi!

May 2017

The review "The particle in the spider’s web: transport through biological hydrogels" by Jacob Witten and Katharina Ribbeck has been accepted to Nanoscale! Congratulations to Jacob and Katharina!


Two new papers have been accepted in The ISME Journal: "Swimming bacteria promote dispersal of non-motile staphylococcal species" by Tahoura Samad, Nicole Billings, Alona Birjiniuk, Thomas Crouzier, Patrick Doyle, and Katharina Ribbeck, and "Salivary mucins promote the coexistence of competing oral bacterial species" by Erica Shapiro and Katharina Ribbeck. Congratulations to everyone involved!

May 2017

Congratulations to Katharina for getting tenure!

May 2017

Congratulations to Wes Chen for defending his thesis!

March 2017

Congratulations to Erica Shapiro on defending her thesis!

March 2017

Congratulations to Kelsey Wheeler for winning an NSF fellowship!

March 2017

Congratulations to Emiko Zumbro on winning first prize in the GSOFT poster prize competition at APS March Meeting!

January 2017

Welcome to our newest lab member, Caroline Werlang!

June 2016

Congratulations to Jacob on passing his qualifying exam!

April 2016

Congratulations to Katharina Ribbeck on receiving the Harold E. Edgerton Award!

April 2016

Congratulations to Emiko Zumbro for winning an NDSEG fellowship!

March 2016

Congratulations to Caroline Wagner for winning an NSERC fellowship and to Jacob Witten for winning an NSF fellowship!

January 2016

Welcome to our newest lab member, Caroline Wagner!

January 2016

The review "Salivary mucins in host defense and disease prevention" by Erica Shapiro Frenkel and Katharina Ribbeck has just been published in the Journal of Oral Microbiology! Congratulations to Erica and Katharina!

December 2015

Welcome to our newest lab member, Emiko Zumbro!

November 2015

The review "Salivary mucins in host defense and disease prevention" by Erica Shapiro Frenkel and Katharina Ribbeck has just been accepted to the Journal of Oral Microbiology! Congratulations to Erica and Katharina!

September 2015

Two new papers have been published in Advanced Materials Interfaces: "Probing the Role of Mucin-Bound Glycans in Bacterial Repulsion by Mucin Coatings" by Julia Co, Thomas Crouzier, and Katharina Ribbeck, and "Modulating mucin hydration and lubrication by deglycosylation and polyethylene glycol binding" by Thomas Crouzier and Oliver Lieleg. Congratulations to everyone involved!

September 2015

We received an NSF CAREER award for our lab!

May 2015

Congratulations to Dr. Julia Co and Dr. Alona Birjiniuk for their amazing thesis defenses!

March 2015

Welcome to our newest lab member, Jacob Witten!

February 2015

Congratulations to Dr. Kavanaugh for her fabulous thesis defense!!! We are very proud -- she is the first student to graduate from our lab.

January 2015

Congratulations to Katharina Ribbeck for receiving the Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching.

November 2014

-Congrats to Wes for passing his oral quals!!

October 2014

-A new publication has been accepted in Reviews on Progress in Physics: Material properties of biofilms—a review of methods for understanding permeability and mechanics.
Congratulations to Nicole Billings, Alona Birjiniuk, Tahoura Samad and others!

October 2014

-A new publication has been accepted in Applied and Environmental Microbiology: Salivary mucins protect surfaces from colonization by cariogenic bacteria
Congratulations to Erica Shapiro!

October 2014

-A new publication has been accepted in mBio: Mucins Suppress Virulence Traits of Candida albicans.
Congratulations to Nicole Kavanaugh, Angela Zhang and others!

October 2014

-A new publication has been accepted in Scientific Reports: Zebrafish as a Model to Study Live Mucus Physiology
Congratulations to Irena Jetov and others!

September 2014

-Katharina was honored as one of Popular Science's Brilliant 10 of 2014!! Congratulations!!

August 2014

-A new publication has been accepted in Biomacromolecules: Sugar-Mediated Disassembly of Mucin/Lectin Multilayers and Their Use as pH-Tolerant, On-Demand Sacrificial Layers. Congratulations to Roberta Polak, Thomas Crouzier and others!

June 2014

-A new publication has been accepted in New Journal of Physics: Single particle tracking reveals spatial and dynamic organization of the E. coli biofilm matrix
Congratulations to Alona Birjiniuk, Nicole Billings and others!

June 2014

-Congratulations to Wes who was awarded a fellowship as part of MIT's Biotechnology Training Program!

June 2014

-Congratulations to Kate who was awarded an NIH/AIDS travel grant!

June 2014

-Congratulations to Tahoura for passing quals!

April 2014

-Congratulations to Tahoura who was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowshipfrom the National Science Foundation!

March 2014

-Welcome to our newest lab members Kowa Chen and Tahoura Samad!

December 2013

-Katharina was featured in this month's MIT News Faculty Highlight. Check it out!

August 2013

- A new publication has been accepted in Biophysical Journal: Spatial configuration and composition of charge modulates transport into a mucin hydrogel barrier
Congratulations to Leon Li, Thomas Crouzier, and others!

July 2013

- New publications in Biomacromolecules, PLOS ONE, and PLOS Pathogens are in press! Please see the publications page. Congratulations to Thomas Crouzier, Nicole Billings, and Grace Yao!

January 2013

- Katharina Ribbeck received the 2013 John Kendrew Award for Excellence in Research and Science Communication.

December 2012

- Congratulations to Dr. Leon Li!!

November 2012

- We welcome our newest lab member Wesley Chen, a Biological Engineering graduate student!!

October 2012

- Find us at the 6th ASM Conference on Biofilms in Miami. From September 29th to October 4th.

October 2012

- A new publication has been accepted in Current Biology: Mucin biopolymers prevent bacterial aggregation by retaining cells in the free-swimming state
Congratulations to all the authors and in particular to Marina Caldara, Ronn Friedlander and Nicole Kavanaugh!!

September 2012

- Congratulations to Julia who was awarded a Student Traineeship grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation!!

August 2012

- Congratulations to Thomas and Collin for their latest publication in Biomacromolecules entitled Mucin multilayers assembled through sugar-lectin interactions.

July 2012

- A short film on the the wonderful world of mucus, written and directed by Andrew Rajczewski is now available. Go see A Mucus Story.

May 2012

- Congratulations to our own Grace Yao,winner of the BE-BMES Johnson & Johnson Excellence in Biomedical Engineering Research Prize!

January 2012

- Congratulations to Thomas who was awarded the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowships for career development (IOF)


Current team   /   Alumni

Katharina Ribbeck

Principal Investigator

Erica Shapiro Frenkel

DDS PhD Student

The goal of my research is to understand how salivary mucins influence the physiology of oral bacteria. Specifically, I’m interested in learning how salivary mucins help prevent dental cavity formation.

Wesley Chen

PhD Student

My interests lie in the self-assembly and selective transport process through biological hydrogels. I use simplified peptides as a proxy for complex biological polymers to dissect the biophysical properties required for tunable mechanical and transport-related properties.

Kathryn Blakey Dupont


My research focuses on understanding the biophysical and biochemical qualities that govern selective permeability in human mucus. Using cervical mucus as a case study, I apply a microfluidic device platform to investigate the characteristics that distinguish molecules that permeate through or are hindered by the mucus barrier. My hobbies include running, knitting, baking, and hiking.

Brad Turner

Research scientist

My primary interests are in mucin glycoprotein biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology and their involvement in diseased and applications to therapeutics.
Outside interests include music; singing with various Boston choral and church groups including the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and flute. I am an active member at the Roxbury Presbyterian Church.

Tahoura Samad

PhD Student

I am interested in investigating transport of nanoparticles through mucus. In particular, I'm working on understanding how different particle parameters like size, shape and surface chemistry effect transport, and how this knowledge can be applied to improve drug delivery.

Ana Burgos

I am currently a senior at MIT studying Biological Engineering. When I'm not in lab studying transport through biological hydrogels and their microrheology, I enjoy being a volunteer EMT and solving puzzles.

Jacob Witten

PhD student

My main interests are in understanding physical and chemical interactions with mucus for substances ranging from small molecules to nanoparticles. I am developing new assays and computational tools for analysis of these interactions.

Caroline Wagner

PhD student

My research interests focus on predicting the macroscopic rheological response of biological gels, mucus in particular, from microscropic properties. We do so through a combined approach of polymer modeling and rheological experimentation with solutions of both native mucins and fabricated mucin mimetics.

Emiko Zumbro

PhD student

I am researching how the structure of multivalent polymers influences their functional properties. I am especially interested in how changing the display of binding sites on polymers like mucins alter their interactions with pathogens.

Ben Wang

PhD student

I'm interested in understanding how pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa sense and respond to host-derived sugars, such as those found on mucins. In particular, my goal is to understand how different sugars modulate different behaviors such as virulence and persistence.

Gerardo Cárcamo-Oyarce


I am interested in understanding how mucus influences bacterial behavior of pathogenic bacteria. I am particularly focused on studying bacterial interactions such as cell-to-cell communication and bacterial competition in mucus environment.

Kelsey Wheeler

PhD student

The goal of my research is to understand how the mucus environment influences microbial physiology and community dynamics. In particular, I am interested in how mucins modulate virulence and ultimately affect interactions among commensal and pathogenic microorganisms.

Caroline Werlang

PhD student

I am interested in the chemical and genetic basis behind microbial interactions with mucus.

Julie Takagi

PhD student

The goal of my research is to understand the ways in which mucus alters microbial physiology and impacts microbial interactions. I am focused on investigating the oligosaccharides on mucins that are able to be sensed by microbes and the mechanism in which they effect microbial behavior and virulence.