A method that could provide more uniform and longer-lasting drug and gene delivery to mucosal surfaces holds the potential to greatly improve the effectiveness of prophylactic and therapeutic approaches for numerous diseases and conditions, including sexually transmitted infections, cystic fibrosis, chronic rhinosinusitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and glaucoma to name a few. However, the body's natural defenses, including adhesive, rapidly cleared mucus linings coating nearly all entry points to the body not covered by skin, has limited the effectiveness of drug and gene delivery by nanoscale delivery systems. This article discusses the recent development of the “mucus- penetrating particle” or “MPP” nanotechnology, and how it has been used to both enhance understanding of the nanoscale barrier properties of human mucus secretions, and to achieve more uniform and longer-lasting drug delivery to mucosal tissues following topical administration. Drug loaded MPPs possess non-adhesive coatings that allow them to rapidly penetrate mucus layers through openings in the mucus mesh at rates nearly as fast as they would penetrate pure water. Critically, MPPs allow enhanced drug and gene delivery to mucosal tissues without diminishing the protective function of mucus. Recent progress in the development of MPPs as a biophysical tool to probe the length-scale dependent rheological properties of mucosal secretions and as a method for drug and gene delivery is highlighted.