Researchers studying Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients have discovered a signal that tells the bacteria to begin producing biofilm, a discovery that may lead to preventative treatments.

“We know quite a lot about the regulatory signaling that is involved in the bacterium telling itself to form a biofilm, but we haven’t had much knowledge about the molecular signals that tell these organisms that it’s an appropriate time and place to cluster,” Gregory G. Anderson, a microbiologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said in a press release.

“Specifically, we haven’t known what signals bacteria are receiving from the environment — in this case, the mucus in CF patients’ lungs — to tell them to form biofilms,” added Anderson, the lead author of the study.