Scientists, orthopedists and the Navy would like to know how the lowly mussel stays put at the bottom of turbulent waters.

J. Herbert Waite, a marine biologist at the University of Connecticut at Farmington, has found out. And Genex, a Rockville biotechnology company, is trying to turn the answer into a new product that could have wide application.

The mussel, Waite has found, fastens itself to rocks with a glue that it secretes. The glue is a protein that forms fast-hardening, strong, long-lasting bonds to wet surfaces. The mussel secretes it at from the tips of threads that extrude from between its shells.

The mussel has a gene that controls the manufacture of the protein glue, and Genex bioengineers are hoping to find it and insert it into bacteria that could manufacture large quantities of the natural glue.

If they succeed, orthopedists say the glue could be used to repair broken bones, binding them securely in minutes with no need for a cast. The glue might also be an improvement on the cement used to fasten artificial hip joints, which often come loose after about 10 years. Some dentists think mussel glue could be turned into a decay-resistant coating for teeth.

Even the Navy is interested because the glue could be good for making underwater repairs and as a protective coating.