Scientist's vision explodes food toxins

Related tags Bacteria

A new food safety technique coming out of the UK that uses a virus
is set to win an exclusive worldwide licence. The move marks the
first step towards the commercialisation of the technique that can
'explode' deadly food-poisoning bacteria.

Professor Mike Gasson from the Institute of Food Research​ Profos, a company specialising in bacterial viruses and antimicrobial agents, and technology transfer experts PBL, Gasson was able to develop a practical technique.

"Viruses can infect bacteria as well as humans. A virus invades bacterial cells, multiplies and then produces an enzyme to burst the cell wall, enabling it to escape and infect more cells,"​ said professor Gasson. "We targeted an enzyme with this fire-power, to develop its potential in combating pathogenic bacteria."

Viruses that infect bacteria are called bacteriophages. The bacteria-bursting enzymes that caught Gasson's attention are called lysins. Different lysins attack specific bacteria, so could be used as a diagnostic tool as well as an antimicrobial therapy in people and animals.

The bacteriophage lysins covered in the licence can be used to detect or selectively kill Listeria and Clostridium. They could even provide an alternative to antibiotics in some applications, report the researchers.

Rapid detection is particularly important for some of the more virulent bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria exists naturally in the soil and general environment, but in some soft mould-ripened cheeses and pâtés can be present in higher numbers.

"Listeria is the food industry's number one nightmare. Professor Gasson had the vision to spot the potential of using a virus to destroy it. With the expertise at Profos we1re turning that investigative science into a significant food safety tool to benefit the public,"​ said PBL​ managing director Jan Chojecki.

The licence also covers lysins that destroy Clostridium. This bacteria forms hardy spores, resistant to heating and drying. In poultry, Clostridium perfringens causes necrotic enteritis, currently cured with antibiotics. In humans, Clostridium difficile causes diarrhoea in patients receiving antibiotic treatment the bacterium seizes the opportunity to infect provided by disruption to naturally-occurring bacteria of the bowel.

"The demand for commercial alternatives to antibiotics is growing, in response to the need to tackle bacterial antibiotic resistance. As well as providing a new tool to combat bacteria now, there is interest in developing bacteriophage lysins to replace antibiotics in some applications in the future. Unlike antibiotics, this technology provides a precision tool, designed to kill specific bacteria while leaving other micro-organisms intact,"​ said Gasson.

Tackling food safety at a European level, the construction of a new database on microbial risk assessment, planned to reduce microbial food poisoning, is one of the objectives of EU-RAIN, an EU funded concerted action project.

The cases of microbial food poisoning in Europe are estimated at more than 34 million per year.

The EU-RAIN​ database, open for data inclusion and for use by specialists, includes raw data from research into the pathogens Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli​ O157:H7, Yersinia enterocolitica​ and Staphylococcus aureus​ in pork, beef, lamb, poultry, milk and vegetables.

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