Mucus uses glycans in concert with mucins to “regulate” the behavior of bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, preventing bacterial communication and biofilm formation, according to MIT researchers publishing in the journal Nature Microbiology. 

Essentially, the mucin-glycans disarmed Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic pathogen that can cause infections in cystic fibrosis patients and people with compromised immune systems. The mucin-glycans even dispersed bacterial cells that had already formed biofilms.

“By isolating glycans from the mucin backbone, we assessed the collective activity of hundreds of complex structures in solution,” the authors continued. “Like their grafted counterparts, free mucin-glycans potently regulate bacterial phenotypes even at relatively low concentrations. This regulatory function likely depends on glycan complexity, as monosaccharides do not attenuate virulence.”