Nav: Home

Releasing our inner jellyfish in the fight against infection

July 09, 2018

Mucus is able to protect us from infection thanks to ancient genes that have been conserved throughout 350 million years of evolution - dating back to our days as a jellyfish.

Now scientists are hoping to unlock the secret of how mucus fights infection and pave the way for developing new antibacterial substances in the future.

Led by a team from Newcastle University, UK, the study is published this month in the Nature journal Biofilms and Microbiomes highlights the evolutionary importance of mucus.

Despite the important role it plays as a first line of defense against infection, the way in which the mucin glycoprotein - which makes up mucus - interacts with bacteria is still poorly understood.

"The mucus in our bodies today is essentially the same blue print as that developed by the corals and jelly fish from millions of years ago," explains lead author Professor Grant Burgess.

"It's found all over our body - in our gut, our eyes, our lungs - and is nature's own bacterial barrier cream.

"But whilst it is good at stopping bacteria in their tracks, we don't fully understand how it does this. We do know that mucus has binding sites for the bacteria convincing them that they are bound to the cell surface below the mucus layer.

"Consequently the bacteria will stick to the mucus and be prevented from reaching and infecting the cells - unlocking the complete mechanisms of how mucus works as an antibacterial barrier could provide useful insights into developing new antibacterial substances of the future."

Tackling the rise in Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR)

Worldwide, concern is growing over the threat from bacteria that are resistant to the so-called "last resort" class of antibiotics known as Carbapenems.

The emergence of resistant and untreatable bacteria and limited new antibiotic discovery means the race is on to find new ways of fighting infection.

The secretion of a mucus layer is the first line of defence for many organisms.

First evolving in the cnidaria (anemones, corals and jellyfish) and ctenophores (comb jellies), these organisms are some of the most distant relatives of humans.

"Considering this, it's incredible that we still share similar genes," says Professor Burgess.

"Creatures less evolved than corals and jellyfish, such as the sponges, do not have a mucus barrier and so bacteria live throughout their tissues.

"But what we are seeing here are genes that are vital not just to our survival but to the survival of all metazoans on the planet, that is multicellular animals made up of different tissues and organs.

Studying the fight between bacteria and coral mucus, for example, might help us to discover new drugs or strategies to cure major human diseases.

"While mucus plays a role as a barrier to microbes, it is also vital for moving particulates, such as clearing dust and debris from the lungs, and this same process is used by early animals such as corals and jellyfish for feeding and cleaning their surfaces" says Professor John Bythell a co-author on the paper.

"Understanding the different roles of mucins and how and why they evolved may help us understand how pathogens can overcome these defences."

Newcastle University

Related Bacteria Articles:

Conducting shell for bacteria
Under anaerobic conditions, certain bacteria can produce electricity. This behavior can be exploited in microbial fuel cells, with a special focus on wastewater treatment schemes.
Controlling bacteria's necessary evil
Until now, scientists have only had a murky understanding of how these relationships arise.
Bacteria take a deadly risk to survive
Bacteria need mutations -- changes in their DNA code -- to survive under difficult circumstances.
How bacteria hunt other bacteria
A bacterial species that hunts other bacteria has attracted interest as a potential antibiotic, but exactly how this predator tracks down its prey has not been clear.
Chlamydia: How bacteria take over control
To survive in human cells, chlamydiae have a lot of tricks in store.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
'Pulling' bacteria out of blood
Magnets instead of antibiotics could provide a possible new treatment method for blood infection.
New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria
Staphylococcus aureus is a common colonizer of the human body.
Understanding your bacteria
New insight into bacterial cell division could lead to advancements in the fight against harmful bacteria.
Bacteria are individualists
Cells respond differently to lack of nutrients.

Related Bacteria Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...