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Viruses In Mucus Protect From Infection 75

ananyo writes "Researchers have discovered that animal mucus — ' whether from humans, fish or corals' — is loaded with bacteria-killing viruses called phages. These protect their hosts from infection by destroying incoming bacteria. In return, the phages are exposed to a steady torrent of microbes in which to reproduce. Mucus mainly consists of huge molecular complexes called mucins, which are made up of thousands of glycan sugars attached to a central protein backbone. The team showed that phages stick to these sugars, reducing the number of bacteria that can attach to mucus by more than 10,000 times."
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Viruses In Mucus Protect From Infection

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  • by hguorbray ( 967940 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @06:22PM (#43777051)
    I'm protecting my myself from bacteria -honest....

    I'm just sayin'
    • "I'm not addicted to cake rolls []! I'm just trying to increase the glycan* sugar level in my mucus!"

      *Not to be confused with the lycan [] sugar level, which is both different and much scarier.

  • The directions this sort of research could be taken next are so amusing.
    First, A potentially communicable source of disease resistance. Nose picking: Beneficial Adaptation for both picking up AND spreading immunity?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @06:32PM (#43777117) Journal

    Does anybody know how mucus differs from the 'extracellular polymeric substance' of which biofilms are made, such that the one would be a haven for bacteriophages and the other a haven for bacteria?

    • Not personally, but I know a guy who knows a guy...

      Actually I just know the guy; we work together. I'll bug him tomorrow for you.

    • I've never worked with biofilms, but I was a part of a research group that did, so hopefully I am remembering this correctly.

      They're actually very similar in makeup, mucins and biofilms. The way mucins are supposed to work is to preferentially bind to the external saccharides on cellular walls, inhibiting the microbes from attaching with their pili and thereby stopping the biofilm from ever gaining a foothold.

      Most mucins are o-glycoproteins, while the biofilms are typically polysaccharides (very interlinke

    • Well, the guy was busy. Besides what MagusSlurpy covered, the reason the mucus and bacteriophages are able to co-operate is because the bacteriophages mimic the shapes of antibodies on their exteriors, and mucin proteins have patches of glycan residues that bind antibodies and hold them in place as a normal defence mechanism. The bulk of the paper actually focuses on this exact thing.
  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @06:38PM (#43777157) Journal
    For starters, why we produce more mucus when we're sick: more habitat for the symbiote virus, so it can try to repel the invader. Too bad it isn't (more?) effective against invading virii.
    • I'd say it does a good job on secondary infections. The body really is an amazing organism, all hands on deck in the face of hopeless odds. However I can see mucus bandages on the horizon which is mildly revolting.

      • Clean synthetic mucus would probably just be a clear gel with a bit of "slimy" tendencies. Hardly any more disgusting than, say, antibiotic ointments are.

    • ...why we produce more mucus when we're sick...

      Snot my problem, man.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 20, 2013 @08:20PM (#43777671)
      It's 'Viruses'. People who think otherwise have their heads up their anii.
    • Help out the content search engines, man? Always and only use the word "virii" when you are talking about the plural of a computer virus. In the English language, the correct plural form of a biological virus is "viruses".

      It's bad enough that the singular form is ambiguous out of context, at least help us build a useful signifier in the plural form.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, that does give some meaning to the phrase "to lick ones wounds".

    • Re:Old knowledge (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Monday May 20, 2013 @06:54PM (#43777251)

      Well, that does give some meaning to the phrase "to lick ones wounds".

      Not new meaning, just new understanding. Saliva was already well known to have anti-bacterial properties. That is why animals lick their wounds. This just helps us better understand the mechanism. One theory that I have heard is that when a wound is licked, the wounded animal ingests the infecting bacteria, and develops antibodies which prevent the infection from spreading. This is similar to one reason that mother animals lick their babies: they ingest any bacteria on their young, and develop antibodies in their milk which are passed to their young when they nurse. This research shows one more reason that licking both your wounds and your young is a good idea.

      • by Ryanrule ( 1657199 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @07:26PM (#43777435)

        So I should lick my prostitutes first?

        • by rts008 ( 812749 )


          At least that's the way I always heard it: 'Lick em, and stick em'. ;-)

      • This research shows one more reason that licking both your wounds and your young is a good idea.

        I think you just found a new defense that Jerry Sandusky's lawyers can use...

      • This research shows one more reason that licking both your wounds and your young is a good idea.

        This is why the grandchildren aren't allowed to visit anymore.

  • While I have no question about mucus humans produce when attacked by the cold, I wonder whether that slimy stuff snails produce is called mucus as well.

    For one thing, it's the reason I will never [consciously] eat snails. In fact, snails in my culture, are regarded as 'dirty' creatures.

    • For one thing, it's the reason I will never [consciously] eat snails. In fact, snails in my culture, are regarded as 'dirty' creatures.

      Wild snails are dirty. That's why you feed them corn meal for a while until you eat them. I don't know how you can tell when they're done, but I've never really given too much thought to inspecting snail shit.

  • Snot's cool. (Score:5, Informative)

    by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @07:11PM (#43777335)
    Mucus drips down the sinus and keep gastric juices from destroying the stomach. Amazing stuff, snot is.

    "Mucus is known to prevent particles such as dust, pollen, bacteria and dirt from reaching the lungs and the trachea. This is because these particles can cause irritation and infections to the lungs. Mucus is usually produced in the nose, where it lubricates the hairs found within the lining of the nose." []

  • Dr. Langstrom was right!

    Hopefully it's only a matter of time 'til they find the luck and sexual magnetism strains.

  • And yet people still get colds and sinus infections. So yeah it would be a lot worse but this isn't some magic cure-all. What I do is nuke everything with zinc at the first sign of any illness and tada, it's gone. It prevents viruses from attaching to the cells along my nose's mucous membranes. I think scientists knew this since like 2004 and after 20/20 did a story on it, New York City sold out of Zinc overnight, as did many other areas. I personally haven't been sick in years and prevented at least 2
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I hope you are aware that those are *viral* infections!
      The article describes how the phages *in mucus* protect you from *bacteria*!

      Our outer perimeter (skin) is great at protecting us against *bacteria* (and particles and chemicals in general). But it does a shitty job against the high-tech *viruses* (or parasites).

      For the viruses, we have the *immune system* with the spleen (barracks of the standing army), the lymphatic system (highways) and the tonsils (gate guardians).

      But they can only do their job, if y

    • by rts008 ( 812749 )

      At the "first sign of any illness", you have already been infected by the cold or flu virus for many days, due to the particular virus' incubation period.

      The zinc is hardly more than a placebo, and if that makes you feel better, than great! But don't delude yourself that the viral infection has has not.

  • An interesting thought. When we're sick we continually blow our noses and try clear out as much of the mucus as possible. Perhaps the habits of nose blowing and picking are what causes us to get sick most of the time in the first place - our nose detects a virus and starts producing mucus to fight it off, we blow our nose removing the barrier to infection? Perhaps when we're sick we need to let our bodies do the work and let the mucus sit there sort of thing.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      I suspect the infecting agent is messing with our metabolism, causing us to make a super-watery mucus that is less effective and an inconvenience that the body has to get rid of.

  • by staalmannen ( 1705340 ) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @12:53AM (#43778841)
    As expected, lots of /.-ers fail to make the distinction between phages and (human-infecting) viruses... Phages have been tested as an interesting alternative to antibiotics. One disadvantage has been that they are very specific, which means that one often would have to apply many strains in order to fight an unclassified infection. On the other hand, with the advent of metagenomics, it has become clear that the composition of our commensal bacteria in the gut and on other places are critical for our health (both mental and physical) and that there may be several diseases caused by messing with this ecosystem by too frequent use of antibiotics (overlays of antibiotic usage and several diseases (heart diseases, diabetes, psychological diseases) per geographic area actually fit pretty nicely). An interesting application of phages could be to manipulate our commensal ecosystems in such a way that we ensure a "healthy" composition in our gut, lungs etc. Since the phages themselves are not alive, I have no idea what such a treatment would be called. It is not an antibiotic and it is not a probiotic... parabiotic? Nah... I will leave that to the marketers.
  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @01:11AM (#43778891)
    Perhaps the overuse of triclosan [] has another side effect beyond drug resistant bacteria? Reduced number of prey for the phages thus reduced number of phages, so a rapid influx of harmful bacteria might sweep past the low population of "defenders" before the phages have a chance to regrow their numbers?
  • Anything can evolve to be a symbiont as long as it is vertically transmitted rather than horizontally transmitted.

    Vertical transmission means you close off the borders to transmission and only transmit from parent to child.

  • This news is nothing to sneeze at. Seriously, no matter how much you turn your noses up at it. I think it's just a drop in the bucket.
  • Would it not be fascinating if it turned out that viruses began as "expelled" portions of animal immune systems? Heck, perhaps the virus DNA in our genes is sometimes more than simply the inherited remnants of past infection?
  • Hi, I just found this post. Im lead author on the paper so feel free to ask me anything. []
  • Makes you wonder about the idiots who feel compelled to expel the stuff all the time, doesn't it? They must get sick a lot. Maybe that's a good thing for the gene pool.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter