According to senior author Professor Michael Jennings, glycans - the complex sugar structures on cells linked to the spread of many diseases - can interact with each other at high affinity.

Previous to this, the interaction was not thought possible or was considered a weak non-important interaction. "We have discovered an entirely new way that cells and macromolecules interact with each other through interactions between bacterial glycan and human glycans," Jennings said.

"To develop new drugs and vaccines you have to understand these biological processes and before this we did not know they existed so this finding opens up the opportunity for a range of approaches we can use to block infections," he explained.

"This is yet another example of the exciting advances towards the discovery of new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for significant diseases we are making here in the Institute for Glycomics," the authors noted in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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