It was Dr Pitt’s husband Dr Alan Gunn, Subject Lead for Biosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, who started the research.
Dr Pitt said: “He was idly wondering about snails moving over the soil etc in a garden which is full of bacteria and how/why they appear to stay healthy. Was there something in the mucus which fought against infections?
“He started testing the frothy mucus snails secrete as a defence against bacteria for an undergraduate student project. He thought something interesting might be happening but when I discussed his lab methods it was clear he was doing it all wrong.
“So I did what wives tend to do and said ‘you are doing that all wrong – give it to me and I’ll sort it out’ – which I did.
“So it was chance really – I don’t think either of us really expected anything much to come of it. However, once I had tried it here with some of my undergraduates and it looked as though there might possibly be some effect, I worked on the assay one summer until I had developed a method which gave me reproducible results.”
Dr Pitt began collecting the frothy mucus from the brown garden snail and tested it for antibacterial activity against a panel of bacteria.
She said: “In previous work, we found that the mucus consistently and convincingly inhibited the growth of one species of bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a tough bacterium that can cause disease, but it did not seem to work against other bacteria.
“So in this study we tried all the control strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa we had available in the lab here at the University as well as five strains taken from patients with CF who had lung infections with this bacterium.