Researchers discover a compound that controls Listeria

Jan 04, 2012 By Krishna Ramanujan
This image shows Listeria monocytogenes (green) infecting Chinook Salmon embryo cells (red). Image: M. Wiedmann and M. Roma

In a year when cantaloupe tainted with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes killed 30 people, the discovery of a compound that controls this deadly bacteria -- and possibly others -- is great news.

Cornell researchers have identified a compound called fluoro-phenyl-styrene-sulfonamide (FPSS) that is safe for mammals but stops Listeria in its tracks. It interrupts a mechanism that controls genes that are expressed when the bacterium experiences a rapid change in its environment.

The discovery, reported in the November/December issue of mBio, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology, offers new directions for basic research on how L. monocytogenes and other bacteria survive in a wide range of rapidly changing hostile conditions, from fluctuating temperatures to the low found in the human stomach. Also, there is a strong possibility that FPSS eventually may be developed as a drug to combat listeriosis and other bacterial infections.

"This is absolutely the most exciting work in my career to date," said Kathryn Boor, Cornell professor of food science, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the paper's senior author. Mary Elizabeth Palmer, Ph.D. '09, a former graduate student in Boor's lab and now at Vitamin Research Products in Carson City, Nev., is the lead author.

For a to infect a human, it must be able to survive rapid changes in its environment, ranging from cold of refrigeration and heat from cooking to highly acidic stomach conditions and osmotic and anaerobic states found in the . To do so, L. monocytogenes and certain other bacteria employ a "stress-responsive alternative sigma factor" called sigma B, which controls more than 150 genes, including those that contribute to virulence and survival in host-associated , including genes essential for the bacteria to cross the , according to the study.

"We were the first to characterize sigma B in L. monocytogenes," said Boor. "It's the linchpin in the transition of this organism from a harmless environmental microbe to a human pathogen. It allows these single-celled pathogens to survive environmental assaults associated with transmission in foods, followed by transit in the human body."

Once they identified sigma B, Boor and colleagues looked for compounds that might prevent its function.

By robotically screening 57,000 natural and synthetic small compounds from sets of libraries at the Broad Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the researchers initially found 41 small compounds that inhibited sigma B. Of those, FSPP was found to be nontoxic to mammalian cells and inhibited sigma B in both L. monocytogenes and Bacillus subtilis (a soil bacteria and food contaminant that survives high heat).

"This is a newly emerging approach in the search for antibiotics that are not dangerous to mammals but stop such pathogens as , and could be a possible treatment against other organisms," Boor added.

She said that more research is needed to better understand how FSPP controls sigma B activity and whether the compound affects the same mechanism in such pathogens as B. cereus (foodborne illness), Staphylococcus aureus (cause of acne and pneumonia) and Bacillus anthracis (anthrax).

Co-authors include Soraya Chaturongakul, Ph.D. '07, now a lecturer at Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand, and Martin Wiedmann, a Cornell professor of food science.

Explore further: Brand new technology detects probiotic organisms in food

Related Stories

Scientists advance understanding of food pathogen

Jan 12, 2011

Listeria is an opportunistic pathogen that causes brain infection, blood poisoning, abortion and death for about 500 Americans and a number of farm animals each year. But while its harmful strains can be more lethal than ...

Recommended for you

Brand new technology detects probiotic organisms in food

17 hours ago

In the food industr, ity is very important to ensure the quality and safety of products consumed by the population to improve their properties and reduce foodborne illness. Therefore, a team of Mexican researchers ...

Protein evolution follows a modular principle

18 hours ago

Proteins impart shape and stability to cells, drive metabolic processes and transmit signals. To perform these manifold tasks, they fold into complex three-dimensional shapes. Scientists at the Max Planck ...

Report on viruses looks beyond disease

Jul 22, 2014

In contrast to their negative reputation as disease causing agents, some viruses can perform crucial biological and evolutionary functions that help to shape the world we live in today, according to a new report by the American ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
5 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2012
Hydrogen peroxide is deadly to all bacteria, protozoa, and fungi with no known species of monads able to develop a resistance to it. It is easily rinsed off of food, and is not toxic to humans except in extreme concentrations and doses, although moderate concentrations and doses can induce vomiting.
Many people use it for sanitizing the mouth in a mouthwash or toothpaste form.