Small Changes in Agricultural Practices Could Reduce Produce-borne Illness

County Line Harvest

County Line Harvest (Photo credit: Nourishing Our Children Photos)

“This is going to help make produce safer”

Researchers from Cornell University have identified some agricultural management practices in the field that can either boost or reduce the risk of contamination in produce from two major foodborne pathogens: salmonella, the biggest single killer among the foodborne microbes, and Listeria monocytogenes. Their findings are published ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

“This is going to help make produce safer,” says Laura Strawn, a researcher on the study. “We could significantly reduce risk of contamination through changes that occur a few days before the harvest.”

Researchers from Cornell University have identified some agricultural management practices in the field that can either boost or reduce the risk of contamination in produce from two major foodborne pathogens: salmonella, the biggest single killer among the foodborne microbes, and Listeria monocytogenes. Their findings are published ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

“This is going to help make produce safer,” says Laura Strawn, a researcher on the study. “We could significantly reduce risk of contamination through changes that occur a few days before the harvest.”

Many of the risk factors were influenced by when they were applied to fields which suggests that adjustments to current practices may reduce the potential for contamination with minimal cost to growers, says Strawn.

Foodborne illness sickens an estimated 9.4 million, and kills around 1,300 annually in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Produce accounts for nearly half the illnesses, and 23 percent of the deaths.

“The research is the first to use field collected data to show the association between certain management practices and an increased or decreased likelihood of salmonella and L. monocytogenes,” says Strawn.

For salmonella, manure application within the year prior to the researchers’ sampling boosted the odds of a contaminated field, while the presence of a buffer zone between the fields and potential pathogen reservoirs such as livestock operations or waterways was protective.

Irrigation within three days before sample collection raised the risk of listeria contamination six-fold. Soil cultivation within the week before sampling also increased the chances of contamination.

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Natural pest control protein effective against hookworm: A billion could benefit

Hookworms

A benign crystal protein, produced naturally by bacteria and used as an organic pesticide, could be a safe, inexpensive treatment for parasitic worms in humans and provide effective relief to over a billion people around the world.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, report on this potentially promising solution in a study published ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Hookworms, and other intestinal parasites known as helminths infect more than 1 billion people in poverty-stricken, tropical nations, sucking the vitality from the body, and leaving hundreds of millions of children physically and mentally stunted. Current drugs are insufficiently effective, and resistance is rising, but little effort has been made to develop better drugs because the relevant populations do not represent a profitable market for drug companies.

“The challenge is that any cure must be very cheap, it must have the ability to be mass produced in tremendous quantities, safe, and able to withstand rough conditions, including lack of refrigeration, extreme heat, and remote locations,” says Raffi Aroian, a researcher on the study.

In earlier research, Aroian and his collaborators described a protein, Cry5B, that can kill intestinal nematode parasites—such as human hookworms—in infected test animals (hamsters). Cry5B belongs to a family of proteins that are generally accepted as safe for humans. These proteins are produced naturally in Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium which is applied to crops as a natural insecticide on some organic farms, and CryB proteins have been engineered into food crops such as corn and rice, to render them pest resistant.

As shown for the first time in this paper, Cry5B can also be expressed in a species of bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, which is closely related to Bacillus thuringiensis, and which is also related to bacteria which are present in some probiotics, says Aroian. In the current research researchers showed that a small dose of Cry5B, expressed in this bacterium can achieve a 93 percent elimination of hookworm parasites from infected hamsters. That, says Aroian, is substantially better than current drugs.

The scientific significance of the research, he says, is that “bacteria similar to those that are food grade—which are cheap and can readily be mass produced–can be engineered to produce molecules that can cure parasitic diseases.”

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via American Society for Microbiology & EurekAlert
 

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Quest for Edible Malarial Vaccine Leads to Other Potential Medical Uses for Algae

Vibrio_cholerae
Can scientists rid malaria from the Third World by simply feeding algae genetically engineered with a vaccine?

That’s the question biologists at UC San Diego sought to answer after they demonstrated last May that algae can be engineered to produce a vaccine that blocks malaria transmission. In a follow up study, published online today in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, they got their answer: Not yet, although the same method may work as a vaccine against a wide variety of viral and bacterial infections.

In their most recent study, which the authors made freely available on the Applied and Environmental Microbiology website at http://aem.asm.org, the researchers fused a protein that elicits an antibody response in mice against the organism that causes malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, which afflicts 225 million people worldwide, with a protein produced by the bacterium responsible for cholera, Vibrio cholera, that binds to intestinal epithelial cells. They then genetically engineered algae to produce this two-protein combination, or “fusion protein,” freeze dried the algae and later fed the resulting green powder to mice. The researchers hypothesized that together these proteins might be an effective oral vaccine candidate when delivered using algae.

The result? The mice developed Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies to both the malarial parasite protein and to a toxin produced by the cholera bacteria. Because IgA antibodies are produced in the gut and mucosal linings, they don’t protect against the malarial parasites, which are injected directly into the bloodstream by mosquitoes. But their study suggests that similar fusion proteins might protect against infectious diseases that affect mucosal linings using their edible freeze-dried algae.

“Many bacterial and viral infections are caused by eating tainted food or water,” says Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the study. “So what this study shows is that you can get a really good immune response from a recombinant protein in algae that you feed to a mammal. In this case, it happens to be a mouse, but presumably it would also work in a human. That’s really encouraging for the potential for algae-based vaccines in the future.”

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via University of California – San Diego
 

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New Device Traps Particulates and Kills Airborne Pathogens

800px-Aspergillus_fumigatus_01
The device could be used in homes, with a cost similar to that of high efficiency air cleaners

A new device called a soft x-ray electrostatic precipitator protected immunocompromised mice from airborne pathogenic bacteria, viruses, ultrafine particles, and allergens, according to a paper published online ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. This device, known for short as a SXC ESP, is highly versatile, with multiple potential uses, and Washington University is working on licensing the technology.

“Small particles are difficult to remove, and our device overcomes that barrier,” says Pratim Biswas of Washington University, St. Louis. The device not only captures particles with a high level of efficiency that has never before been achieved; it also inactivates them. Even bioterror agents are blocked and completely inactivated, says Biswas.

The range of potential uses includes indoor protection of susceptible populations, such as people with respiratory illness or inhalation-induced allergies, and young children; protection of buildings from bio-terror attack; protection of individuals in hospital surgical theaters, for example, during open organ surgery; protection in clean rooms for semiconductor fabrication; removal of ultrafine particles in power plants; and capture of diesel exhaust particulates, says Biswas.

The device could be used in homes, with a cost similar to that of high efficiency air cleaners, says Biswas. “But it would be much easier to operate, and much more effective,” he adds. It could be added into stand-alone indoor air cleaners, or incorporated into HVAC systems in homes, offices, and even in aircraft cabins. In the study, the device exceeded standards for high efficiency articulate air filters, which must be capable of removing particles larger than 0.3 micrometers with 99.97 percent efficiency.

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via American Society for Microbiology
 

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Researchers Develop a New Candidate for a Cleaner, Greener and Renewable Diesel Fuel

Fragrant New Biofuel

A class of chemical compounds best known today for fragrance and flavor may one day provide the clean, green and renewable fuel with which truck and auto drivers fill their tanks. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to generate significant quantities of methyl ketone compounds from glucose. In subsequent tests, these methyl ketones yielded high cetane numbers — a diesel fuel rating comparable to the octane number for gasoline — making them strong candidates for the production of advanced biofuels.

“Our findings add to the list of naturally occurring chemical compounds that could serve as biofuels, which means more flexibility and options for the biofuels industry,” says Harry Beller, a JBEI microbiologist who led this study. “We’re especially encouraged by our finding that it is possible to increase the methyl ketone titer production of E. coli more than 4,000-fold with a relatively small number of genetic modifications.”

Beller directs the Biofuels Pathways department for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, and also is a senior scientist with the Earth Sciences Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). He is the corresponding author of a paper describing this work titled “Engineering of Bacterial Methyl Ketone Synthesis for Biofuels,” which was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Co-authoring this paper were Ee-Been Goh, who is the first author on the paper, plus Edward Baidoo and Jay Keasling.

Advanced biofuels — liquid transportation fuels derived from the cellulosic biomass of perennial grasses and other non-food plants, as well as from agricultural waste — are highly touted as potential replacements for gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. Equally touted is the synthesis of these fuels through microbes that digest the biomass and convert its sugars into fuel molecules. At JBEI, researchers are focusing on developing advanced biofuels that can be used in today’s engines and distribution infrastructures. In previous research, Beller and his colleagues engineered E. coli with special enzymes to synthesize from fatty acids long-chain alkene hydrocarbons that can be turned into diesel fuel. Fatty acids are the energy-rich molecules in bacterial and plant cells that have been dubbed nature’s petroleum.

“In those studies, we noticed that bacteria engineered to produce unnaturally high levels of fatty acids also produced some methyl ketones,” Beller says. “When we tested the cetane numbers of these ketones and saw that they were quite favorable, we were prompted to look more closely at developing methyl ketones as biofuels.”

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