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article imageMucus helps inactivate bacterial biofilms

By Tim Sandle     Nov 1, 2019 in Science
Boston - New research into mucus shows that it plays an essential role in controlling bacterial biofilms and helping to prevent infection. This is due to sugar molecules present, termed glycans and these disarm opportunistic pathogens.
The new study hails from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it describe show that glycans can stop bacteria from communicating with each other. This reduces the possibility biofilms forming, helping to render pathogenic bacteria harmless.
To explore this, the microbiologists looked at the interactions between glycans and the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This Gram-negative staining, rod-shaped bacterium accounts for up to 20 percent of all infections seen inhospitable around the world, and it poses a particular risk to cystic fibrosis patients. Additionally, P. aeruginosa is highly resistant to antibiotics for many reasons, such as acquiring resistance genes.
Lead researcher Professor Mark Hyman states: “These glycans have biological functions that are very broad and sophisticated. They have the ability to regulate how microbes behave and really tune their identity.”
Investigations revealed that the oligosaccharide sugar molecules attach to proteins termed mucins (the building blocks of mucus). This creates a rough structure, which the researchers draw an analogy to a ‘bottlebrush’.
In the laboratory studies, when exposed to mucin glycans, the microbes experienced broad shifts in behaviour. This led to them being less harmful and they did not produce toxins, neither did they seek to kill host cells. Further analysis revealed that the bacteria no longer expressed the genes that are essential for bacterial communication.
Going forward these insights could mean that Pseudomonas-infected burn wounds can potentially be treated using mucins and mucin glycans to reduce bacterial proliferation, and that a therapeutic product could be developed consists of virulence-neutralizing agents.
To get to this stage the various different glycans need to be studies to assess which types are most likely to be more effective than others.
The researchers also wish to see if the effects can be repeated on other pathogens of concern, especially those which present risks to patients in the hospital environment like Staphylococcus aureus.
The study is published in the journal Nature Microbiology, where the research is titled “Mucin glycans attenuate the virulence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in infection.”
More about Mucus, Bacteria, Microbiology, Biofilm, Medical
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