The team was surprised to discover that Salmonella ignored some sugars that resident bacteria eat while gobbling up fucose. This dietary preference may give drug-makers clues as to how to keep pathogens like Salmonella at bay. “You can imagine flushing someone’s body with a set of nutrients that can promote outgrowth of community members and prevent Salmonella from outcompeting them,” Adkins says. “I think that’s really where there is a lot of room for study.”
The PNNL findings are just the first step, says Vanessa Sperandio, a microbiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas who studies pathogen interaction in the gut. Researchers must next knock out fucose utilization genes in Salmonella to see if the pathogen can still outcompete microbiota in the gut without the sugar, she says. Depending on the findings, researchers will have a better sense of how important fucose may be when Salmonella takes on the gut’s resident bacteria.