Sugar molecules key to food poisoning 'identified'

An international team, led by Dr Christopher Day of Griffith University, claims that all cells in the human body are coated with sugar molecules called glycans which play a key role in one of the most common causes of bacterial food- borne illness known as campylobacter.

"The campylobacter infection depends on the bacteria recognising and binding to the gastrointestinal tract and glycans plays a large role in this recognition.

"We wanted to find the specific glycans in the gut that the infecting organism binds to and we knew if we could do that, then we had targets for drug development to treat the illness," Dr Day said.

The scientists said by using technology which they specifically developed for the research project, a glycan array facility, they identified four classes of glycans that are important to both initial and continued infection.

"This is good because campylobacter cannot infect if these glycans are blocked or if there are decoy glycans for them to bind to. This is the case for many of the glycans found in human breast milk.

"The glycans found in human breast milk have been found to be highly protective against infection of a number of gastrointestinal pathogens, both viral and bacterial," Dr Day said.
The scientists now hopes to mimic this natural protection and develop an effective treatment for infected patients.

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