Tuesday, September 7, 2010


The very name of virus evokes fear in the minds of people and deploying these vectors for crop protection and food preservation can attract adverse reaction from the consumers.The most recent viral pandemic in the form of H1N1 virus or Swine Flu virus is fresh in the memory of the world which increased the sense of apprehension about the dangers of viral vectors. Some recent research studies have brought out the benefit of using phage particles for improving yield and counteracting bacterial diseases that affect the crops like tomato which are well documented. But using the phages for food preservation may be some what far fetched as far as the consumers are concerned. Against this background clearance given for use of phages to neutralize the infection from Listeria monocytogenes by safety authorities in some countries could be a desperate move to control wide spread contamination of meat products by this pathogen. Probably the stubborn persistance of Listeria even at refrigerated temperatures must have prompted agencies to provide another tool in the hands of processors to outwit this much feared pathogen.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved phages for use in foods – but only against Listeria monocytogenes, notes food microbiologist Ipek Goktepe of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. And these products find use primarily on meat and deli products, she added. But that's not bad, since Listeria is one of the most common food-poisoning agents. And a particularly recalcitrant one since it happily grows at refrigerated temperatures. Goktepe reported new data showing that Listeria phages aren't uniformly effective in protecting every contaminated food to which they're applied. Food producers would like to see at least a "4 log" reduction in bacteria – that is, a reduction to one ten-thousandth of the starting population of bugs. In some of Goktepe's tests, she may see a three log reduction or less.One recent success: An E. coli phage that targets O157:H7 strains killed a huge share of these bacterial cells that had been growing on loose lettuce and spinach leaves. When the phages were applied in a moist mist, Goktepe says, "We achieved a 3 to 7 log reduction – and that's a lot. We were not expecting that," she says. "Usually a 4 log reduction is considered very significant." She cautions that the big bacterial drop occurred under fairly ideal conditions, such as at 3 °C, a good refrigerator's temperature. Raise the leafy greens' temperature to 10 °C (about 50 °F) and the phage delivered only a 2 to 5 log drop in E. coli numbers.

The phage treatment against both Listeria and E.coli 0157:H7 opens up new avenues for protecting foods against serious microbial contaminants and it should be possible to evolve species-specific phages for widespread use by the industry. Phages occur in abundance in soil, water,sewage,feces,retail foods, process plant effluents from which high titer purified lysates can be made. Most studies have concentrated on Salmonella, Listeria. Campylobacter and Enterogenic E.coli. Typical applications include pre and post harvest spraying on animals like chickens, piglets, calves and lambs. Use of phages in refrigerated foods like fruits, dairy products, poultry products and meat has been found to be good bio-control strategy for extending their shelf life. The technique is self perpetuating, highly discriminatory, natural and cost-effective. Limitation of the phage technology include limited phage range, requirement of threshold number, phage resistant mutants and potential for transduction of undesirable characteristics from one strain to another. How far the technology can be made acceptable to the consumer is a critical question that does not have an answer to day.


1 comment:

Spokesthingy said...

The use of live viruses in medicine. Too often we hear even experts in phage therapy conclude that patients or consumers might react negatively to the use of live viruses/phages. I believe that it is more important for experts to stress that live and attenuated viruses as vaccines have been used in medicine for a long time. Now we are even reading about oncolytic viruses. The first one has been approved in China and interestingly neither the oncolytic virus researchers or regulatory agencies appear to worry as much about "Live" viruses as do phage researchers. I have often called it a red herring and plan to add a slide on the use of life viruses to my phage therapy presentations.