Updated on 22 May 2013
Dr Jeremy Barr led the team of researchers at San Diego State University, US, that discovered a new immune system, where bacteria-infecting viruses or bacteriophages shielded the body from invading infection
Singapore: A research team at the San Diego State University, US, led by Dr Jeremy Barr, post-doctoral fellow in biology, has discovered that mucus contained bacteria-infecting viruses or bacteriophages, which shielded the body from invading infection. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, US, and has been published in the May early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers sampled mucus from animals and humans, ranging from sea anemone and mouse to humans, and discovered that bacteriophages adhere to the mucus layer on the samples of all organisms. The team placed bacteriophages on top of a layer of mucus-producing tissue and observed that the bacteriophage formed bonds with sugars within the mucus, causing them to adhere to the surface.
They then challenged these mucus cells with E. coli bacteria and found that the bacteriophage attacked and killed off the E. coli in the mucus, effectively forming an anti-microbial barrier on the host that protected it from infection and disease. To confirm their discovery, the team also conducted parallel research challenging non-mucus producing cells with both bacteriophage and E. coli. The results obtained were that the samples with no mucus had three times more cell death.
Dr Barr said that, "Taking previous research into consideration, we are able to propose the Bacteriophage Adherence to Mucus (BAM) is a new model of immunity, which emphasizes the important role bacteriophage play in protecting the body from invading pathogens. This discovery not only proposes a new immune system but also demonstrates the first symbiotic relationship between phage and animals."
Dr Barr added that, "It will have a significant impact across numerous fields. The research could be applied to any mucosal surface. We envision BAM influencing the prevention and treatment of mucosal infections seen in the gut and lungs, having applications for phage therapy and even directly interacting with the human immune system."