The glycans, the sugar molecules found in the human breast milk, could be marshaled to tackle food-poisoning, Australian researchers say.
The discovery by Dr Christopher Day from Griffith University's Institute for Glycomics and his team has been hailed as a major breakthroughugh in tackling campylobacter, a most common cause of bacterial food-borne illness in Australia.
All cells in the human body are coated with sugar molecules called glycans.
"The campylobacter infection depends on the bacteria recognising and binding to the gastrointestinal tract and glycans plays a large role in this recognition," Dr Day said.
"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 by using technology which they specifically developed for the research project, a glycan array facility, they identified four classes of glycans that appeared to be 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 Griffith research team now hopes to mimic this natural protection and develop an effective treatment for infected patients.
He said the research, which was aided by a $150,000 Queensland Government fellowship, will also help to develop a compound that could be added to feed or water for chickens. This would aim to help decrease the number of bacteria living in their digestive tracts.
"It's estimated that even a 75 per cent reduction in campylobacter numbers in a chicken would reduce the chances of getting an infectious dose of the organism from raw chicken meat to practically zero."
Dr Day added that his research findings will also fuel further research into finding a means to reduce or eliminate the pathogen from poultry.