Because bacteria are constantly and rapidly evolving to be more and more resistant to antibiotics, researchers are always looking for solutions to the problem. Improper use and repeated use of antibiotics make the drugs less effective. Among the possible solutions, natural alternatives to antibiotics are often high on the list.
According to a new study published by the scientific journal PLOS One, researchers working for the National Food Institute of the Tech University in Denmark, there may be a new answer to the problem of bacteria in food- a peptide known as Cap 18.
A peptide is a short chain of amino acids linked by peptide bonds and are the building blocks of proteins. Peptides come in six to seven different categories with a few overlaps. One of the most distinguished of these categories is antimicrobial peptides, of which Cap 18 is one.
Cap 18 is a well-known component of some of the simpler aspects of animal immune defense systems. It occurs naturally in rabbits and bears and is known to fight three types of bacteria; Aeromonas salmonicida, Salmonella typhimurium, and Yersinia ruckeri.
Salmonella is a common and dreaded bacteria that is infamous for infecting humans via various food sources- most prevalently poultry. Recently, there have been a number of major recalls involving Salmonella contamination in breakfast cereals. These occurred when the cereals were processed on the same machinery as poultry products without proper decontamination. Salmonella also causes significant losses to the aquaculture industry by infecting massive amounts of rainbow trout each year.
The National Food Institute has estimated that the capabilities of Cap 18 as an antimicrobial are significant enough to make widespread use, in other words, economically viable. To put it in plainer terms, using Cap 18 would save food producers money by preventing the loss of saleable stock.
They believe that Cap 18 and variations of it could be incorporated into food products and in animal feed. The National Food Institute also says that an additional microorganism would have to be invented to produce the peptide. Also, the effects of ingestion of the peptide would have to be subjected to further study.
At present, the NFI researchers have no plans to study Cap 18 further. They are currently working to discover other peptides that could be used to protect the crop yields in other areas of agriculture and food production. At present, they are most interested in discovering new peptides that could reduce losses of potato crops to bacterial infestations.
As a starchy vegetable, potatoes are both extremely valuable as a food source and are especially vulnerable to attack by bacteria, mold, and fungus. A peptide that could reduce losses in potato crops would multiply food production globally at a significant rate.
Seaweed is another favored target by the researchers due to the high nutrient content and availability of seaweed. Again, the possible gains would have an enormous positive impact on food poverty all over the world.
While this research appears to be in its infancy, it is part of a growing scientific movement to replace antibiotics with more sustainable alternatives. For many years now it has been well known that infections by advanced bacteria in hospitals are a leading cause of death for people in the United States and other advanced nations.
Since the advent of antibiotics, they have been used for just about every type of infection liberally and preemptively. But the problem is twofold. For one thing, we have focused more on the use of antibiotics than we have on prevention of infection. Second, microbes of all kinds evolve at an exceedingly rapid rate. Because microorganisms are small, simple, and reproduce very quickly- they also adapt to their stressors very rapidly.
We’ve seen this effect in insect populations as they have been exposed to pesticides. Insect species have evolved immunities to certain poisons over a matter of years. Bacteria, by contrast, can evolve an immunity to a given antibiotic even more quickly under certain circumstances.
The horrific result has been bacteria that continues to spread and damage tissue while in the direct presence of antibiotics that we have relied on heavily.
For these reasons, and more, the discovery of peptides as an antimicrobial will be a welcome one. Antibiotics are not just hard on the microbes they attack but they are also hard on patients. Reducing their use will remove a wide range of unwanted effects of antibiotics such as inflammatory bowel disease, increased cancer risks, and more.
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