The outermost protective layer of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria is composed of bacterial capsular polysaccharides. Insights into the interactions between the capsular polysaccharide and its transporter and the mechanism of sugar export would not only increase our understanding of this key process, but would also help in the design of novel therapeutics to block capsular polysaccharide export. Here, we report a nanolitre detection system that makes use of the bilayer interface between two droplets, and we use this system to study single-molecule recapitulation of sugar export. A synthetic strategy of polyglycosylation based on tetrasaccharide monomers enables ready synthetic access to extended fragments of K30 oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Examination of the interactions between the Escherichia coli sugar transporter Wza and very small amounts of fragments of the K30 capsular polysaccharide substrate reveal the translocation of smaller but not larger fragments. We also observe capture events that occur only on the intracellular side of Wza, which would complement coordinated feeding by adjunct biosynthetic machinery.
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