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Department of Food Science and Nutrition

Researchers discover natural preservative that kills foodborne bacteria

(08/11/2011) University of Minnesota researchers have discovered and received a patent for a naturally occurring lantibiotic—a peptide produced by a harmless bacteria—that could be added to food to kill harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.

The lantibiotic is the first natural preservative found to kill gram-negative bacteria, typically the harmful kind. “It’s aimed at protecting foods from a broad range of bugs that cause disease,” said Dan O’Sullivan, Professor of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota. “Of the natural preservatives, it has a broader umbrella of bugs that it can protect against.”

The lantibiotic could be used to prevent harmful bacteria in meats, processed cheeses, egg and dairy products, canned foods, seafood, salad dressing, fermented beverages, and many other foods. In addition to food safety benefits, lantibiotics are easy to digest, nontoxic, do not induce allergies, and are difficult for dangerous bacteria to develop resistance against.

O’Sullivan discovered the lantibiotic by chance, while researching the genome of bacteria. He then collaborated with Ju-Hoon Lee, a U of M graduate student, to continue the research. The U of M’s Office for Technology Commercialization is currently seeking a licensee for the technology.