A SCIENTIST accidentally made a breakthrough in the search for new antibiotics after a row with her husband over snails.

Dr Sarah Pitt, of the University of Brighton, discovered proteins in snail slime that could be used to treat burn wounds and lung infections.

The microbiologist had a friendly disagreement with husband and fellow biologist Dr Alan Gunn about why the slimy creatures could stay healthy in dirty,

bacteria-ridden gardens.

Dr Pitt said: “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.

“I don’t think either of us really expected anything much to come of it.”

But after Dr Pitt collected frothy mucus from snails in her garden and tested it against different bacteria, she made a huge discovery.

Proteins in the slime were effective against a germ called pseudomonas aeruginosa, which causes lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder with no cure.

Dr Pitt said: “Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a very important cause of lung infections in patients with CF and strains which are resistant to the most commonly used antibiotic treatments are becoming increasingly common.

“Therefore a new antibiotic would be useful.”

Excited by this new discovery, Dr Pitt spent a day rushing back and forth to Kings College London, separating the snail slime proteins into smaller chunks in an attempt to discover the potential medicine.

She then worked with husband Dr Gunn, a professor at Liverpool John Moores University, to look into the proteins’ genetic code to see if such a discovery had been made before.

It had not.

Now Dr Pitt is working with University of Brighton students to try to artificially create the snail slime protein so it can be used in medicine.

She said: “We think that it might be possible to incorporate the purified protein into a cream to treat deep burn wounds and possibly an aerosol to treat lung infections.

“It has taken a long time to get this far. Now we just want to know what is going on.”