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How Bacteria Get Past Our Defenses

Mucus is more than gross--it's a critical barrier against disease, trapping many of the germs that want to invade your body. A wet mesh of proteins, antiseptic enzymes and salts, mucus is what keeps all but a few microbes from wreaking havoc on many of our most exposed tissues.

Helicobacter pylori is one of the few. The tiny, corkscrew-shaped microbe bores through the mucus that lines the acidic cauldron of the human stomach, establishing colonies on the cells below.

After invading the stomach lining, H. pylori causes persistent, low-grade irritation that, over time, can lead to ulcers, and if untreated, to cancer.

Boston University (BU) physicist Rama Bansil--along with students and colleagues from BU, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)--recently helped discover how H. pylori gets through our defenses. The findings could help us protect against this germ, as well as many others.
 
 

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