Katharina Ribbeck, PhD



Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor


Mechanisms of exclusion or passage of molecules by mucus barriers
Penetration of mucus barriers by pathogens
Synthesis and applications of bio-inspired hydrogels


Prof. Ribbeck obtained her Bachelor’s degree and her PhD in Biology from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. She continued her postdoctoral research at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany, and the Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School. Katharina Ribbeck established her independent research group as a Bauer Fellow at the FAS Center for Systems Biology, Harvard University in 2007, and joined the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT as an Assistant Professor in 2010.


The Laboratory for Biological Hydrogels’ focus is on basic mechanisms by which mucus barriers exclude, or allow passage of different molecules and pathogens, and the mechanisms pathogens have evolved to penetrate mucus barriers. It hopes to provide the foundation for a theoretical framework that captures general principles governing selectivity in mucus, and likely other biological hydrogels such as the extracellular matrix, and bacterial biofilms. The Lab’s work may also be the basis for the reconstitution of synthetic gels that mimic the basic selective properties of biological gels.

Research Areas: 

Honors & Awards: 

Popular Science Brilliant Ten Award 2014
John Kendrew Young Scientist Award 2013

Selected Publications:

Li, Leon D., Thomas Crouzier, Aniruddh Sarkar, Laura Dunphy, Jongyoon Han, and Katharina Ribbeck. "Spatial configuration and composition of charge modulates transport into a mucin hydrogel barrier." Biophys J 105, no. 6 (2013): 1357-65.
Critchfield, Agatha S., Grace Yao, Aditya Jaishankar, Ronn S. Friedlander, Oliver Lieleg, Patrick S. Doyle, Gareth McKinley, Michael House, and Katharina Ribbeck. "Cervical mucus properties stratify risk for preterm birth." PLoS One 8, no. 8 (2013): e69528.
Billings, Nicole, MariaRamirez Millan, Marina Caldara, Roberto Rusconi, Yekaterina Tarasova, Roman Stocker, and Katharina Ribbeck. "The extracellular matrix Component Psl provides fast-acting antibiotic defense in Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms." PLoS Pathog 9, no. 8 (2013): e1003526.
Caldara, Marina, Ronn S. Friedlander, Nicole L. Kavanaugh, Joanna Aizenberg, Kevin R. Foster, and Katharina Ribbeck. "Mucin biopolymers prevent bacterial aggregation by retaining cells in the free-swimming state." Curr Biol 22, no. 24 (2012): 2325-30.
Lieleg, Oliver, and Katharina Ribbeck. "Biological hydrogels as selective diffusion barriers." Trends Cell Biol 21, no. 9 (2011): 543-51.