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Ulcer-Causing Bacteria Baffled by Mucus

A new study by engineering researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrates how introducing certain polymers—like those found in human mucus and saliva—into the environment makes it significantly more difficult for H. pylori and other microorganisms to coordinate.

“In the human body, microorganisms are always moving around in mucus, saliva, and other systems that exhibit elasticity due to the presence of polymers. Our study is among the first to look at how this elasticity impacts the collective behavior of microorganisms like H. pylori,” said lead researcher Patrick T. Underhill, assistant professor in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer. “What we found is that polymers do in fact have a substantial impact on the flows created by the swimming bacteria, which in turn makes it more difficult for the individual bacteria to coordinate with each other. This opens the door to new ways of looking at our immune system.”

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