After three years of extracting tiny amounts of natural glue from 3,000 sea mussels, Connecticut scientists have developed a new kind of dental adhesive that works even when wet.

They hope it will have uses in filling cavities, bonding teeth, repairing retinas and coating sutured tissue to prevent infection. It also could hold shattered bones together.

"We are learning about adhesion from the mussel," said Dr. J. Herbert Waite of the University of Connecticut Health Center. His research was supported by the National Institute of Dental Research.

The glue, which mussels can use to stick themselves to "practically anything," is similar to epoxy glues currently in use, Waite said. Epoxy glues have two components -- the glue itself, or resin, and a hardening agent, or catalyst. When the two are mixed, the glue solidifies.

Waite was able to identify a repeating sequence of 10 amino acids in the glue's molecular structure, and with that knowledge, manufacturers are able to reproduce it synthetically. Several medical technology firms are making plans to manufacture it in large quantities, NIDR said.

Without the genetic engineering techniques that allow mass production of the glue, its general use would be impossible. It would take more than 3 million mussels to purify about two pounds of glue.