E.Coli, researchers gaining ground
Researchers from the University of Minnesota recently discovered and patented a naturally occurring lantibiotic, a peptide produced by harmless bacteria, that could be added to food to kill harmful bacteria, like E.coli, salmonella, and listeria.
“It’s aimed at protecting foods from a broad range of bugs that cause disease,” said Dan O’Sullivan, professor of food science and nutrition in the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.
“Of the natural preservatives, it has a broader umbrella of bugs that it can protect against.”
According to the Minnesota researchers, the lantibiotic is a natural food preservative that might be used to prevent harmful bacteria in numerous food products, including meats, processed cheese, egg and dairy products, canned food, seafood, salad dressing and fermented beverages.
The lantbiotic is also said to be easy-to-digest, non-toxic, and not to induce allergies. The research is said to have potential to be developed into an important first defence against dangerous bacteria.
South Australian E.Coli toxin researchers claim early breakthrough but lack funding
While the above University of Minnesota study was about finding a natural preservative to protect against E.coli and salmonella contamination of food, other important research has focused on reducing the toxic effects on human health caused by E.coli.
Back in the year 2000, researchers at the University of Adelaide produced a “designer” probiotic bacterium which binds and neutralises the toxin produced by E. coli. It is this toxin that cause life-threatening attack on the kidneys and blood vessels, as occurred in the recent E.coli food contamination events in Germany, when more than 46 people reportedly died from this cause.
The Adelaide-based team of researchers – Dr Adrienne Paton, Associate Professor Renato Morona and Professor James Paton – had found that the probiotic bacterium completely protected mice from a highly virulent strain of E. coli.
These findings could have potentially led to a life-saving treatment for severe E. coli food poisoning outbreaks. However, even though the research was published in the prestigious academic journal Nature Medicine in 2000 and generated considerable interest at the time from the scientific and medical community, it failed to get funding from the commercial sector to progress into clinical trials in humans.
It has been recently suggested that Australian Federal and State governments, or research bodies such as the CSIRO or institutes in Melbourne’s Parkville medical research precinct, ought to be re-examining that earlier research or that the Australian Health Minister’s Ministerial Council ought to place this issue on the national agenda.
In another context, the Australian New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council also has an opportunity to discuss the E.coli issue in the context of work that is being done by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in developing horticultural industry processing safety standards. A recent article that I wrote in FoodLegal Bulletin about this considered whether governments or industry groups are sufficiently willing to commit moneys to finding solutions, even when there is important research that has already revealed some of the potential solutions.