We have all had the unfortunate olfactory experience of opening a bad pack of meat, a spoiled jug of milk or a rotten carton of eggs. Thousands of pounds of food are wasted every year due to spoilage. Additionally, thousands of cases of food poisoning occur every year due to food poisoning caused by bacteria like due to bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, leading to hundreds of serious hospitalizations around the country. Food spoils because bacteria get into it and break it down. The rotten smell is the smell of the food being eaten and waste expelled by these bacteria.
However, in the modern era, new inventions are always just around the corner. Imagine a world where dairy, meat, eggs and alcohol never go bad. This is exactly the world that Dr. Dan O'Sullivan, a microbiologist and medical researcher working at the University of Minnesota, envisions. Along with graduate student Ju-Hoon Lee, O'Sullivan has discovered, isolated and patented a substance known as bisin. This naturally occurring lantibiotic may be the key to preventing bacterial growth on foodstuffs in the future. Rather than spoiling in weeks, studies indicate that with a simple application of bisin, foods may take years to go bad.
How it Works
Bisin is a naturally-occurring peptide found in the small intestine. It is produced by symbiotic bacteria that live inside our intestines and help us to break down food as well as combat harmful organisms. Bisin helps to gouge holes in the cell walls of other bacteria, effectively destroying the only line of defense they have against the harsh intestinal environment. Dr. O'Sullivan discovered bisin while doing research on these symbiotic bacteria. He noted some remarkable similarities with other lantibiotics used in food preservation.
Nisin: Precursor to Bisin
The bisin preservative invention has an important precursor in nisin, commonly used in processed food today. Similar in form and function to bisin, nisin has been used as a food preservative for over 30 years to prevent the growth of food-borne bacteria such as clostridium, streptococcus and staphylococcus. These organisms are collectively known as gram-positive bacteria. Correspondingly, the bisin invention targets gram-negative bacteria.
Prior to the invention of nisin, food poisoning was a far more serious public health issue. As factory farms and processed foods achieved greater popularity around the country, more diseases were transmitted through improperly handled food. Huge strides were made in the field of food preservatives when nisin was discovered in fermented cheese bacteria. Cheese products, packaged beverages and lunch meats treated with nisin could potentially last for weeks or even months.
This is also why the only food-related disease outbreaks you hear about nowadays are salmonella or E. coli, both of which are gram-negative. All the gram-positive food poisoning outbreaks were effectively quashed by the invention and mass production of nisin. However, the growth of gram-negative bacteria is more difficult to inhibit because their bacterial cell walls are more complex. Because nisin doesn't protect against gram-negative bacteria, food still eventually spoils.
New Food Preservative Invented: Potential Benefits of Bisin
This new bisin invention has the entire food industry excited over its revolutionary implications as a food preservative. This is a huge victory in the fight against E. coli and salmonella, and it is potentially a game changer when it comes to how we store and preserve to food. We may never have to worry about wasting food again. Of course, fresh fruit and vegetables may still go bad. Bisin does not target the bacteria that break down these substances. However, meat, dairy, eggs and alcoholic beverages can all be treated with bisin to prevent them from rotting or going bad.
We might see bisin-treated food on the market as soon as a year from now. Because bisin is so closely related in form and function to nisin, it does not require FDA approval to be produced. The only things stopping Dr. O'Sullivan and his team from growing bisin en masse are the logistics of production and the mechanisms of treatment.
Reports are mixed with regards to when we might see bisin enter the marketplace. Some say within the year; others say as long as three years. Either way, the near future is bright as bisin heralds a new era of food preservation.
Links & Research
http://www.joe.ie/health-fitness/health-fitness-news/scientists-achieve-two-big-medical-breakthroughs-0014975-1 http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-microbiologist-super-preservative.html http://gizmodo.com/5831290/the-chemical-that-makes-food-fresh-for-forever http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8702325/Bisin-Is-this-the-food-industrys-Holy-Grail.html http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2011/08/bisin_preservat.php http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram-negative_bacteria http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8700622/Fresh-food-could-last-for-years.html http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Quality-Safety/Breakthrough-natural-preservative-kills-foodborne-bacteria-research http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/08/14/us-scientists-discover-natural-agent-that-kills-bacteria-in-food