Posted on May 25, 2017, 6 a.m.
Study shows that Omega-3 fatty acids can switch off the specific genes that make the listeria bacterium dangerous.
Select fatty acids comprise a portion of a healthy diet. However, a new study shows fatty acids also help neutralize listeria bacterium that often damages the human body. This discovery might soon lead to better methods to fight harmful bacteria that is resistant to drugs.
A Look at Listeria
Just about every consumer has envisioned the nightmare scenario of shopping at the grocery store, bringing food home and finding it is loaded with harmful bacteria. As an example, listeria is sometimes found in sausage. Pork sometimes contains salmonella. A listeria infection has the potential to spur the onset of listeriosis. This disease can become a life-threatening illness.
University of Southern Denmark professor Brigitte Kallipolitis performs research into these dangerous forms of bacteria. She spearheaded a new study that gleaned interesting insights into the manner in which the listeria bacterium functions. Her discoveries will ameliorate the quest to minimize the risk posed by dangerous bacteria in food.
About the Study
Professor Kallipolitis found that naturally occurring fatty acids are capable of switching off the exact genes that allow for listeria bacterium to be dangerous. Her Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology research group tested a number of omega-3 fatty acids. It took about half an hour for these acids to neutralize listeria bacteria. The results of the study were recently published in a recent edition of the popular journal Research in Microbiology.
Medicine in the Form of Healthy Fatty Acids
The research group led by Kallipolitis is conducting numerous studies to gain an understanding of what occurs at the molecular level when listeria and fatty acids interact. The group found it interesting that harmless and naturally occurring healthy fatty acids play a role in suppressing dangerous bacteria like listeria.
In the grand scheme of things, this means it might be possible to create new treatment methods against listeria as well as other harmful bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. It has been known for quite some time that high levels of certain fatty acids might have an antimicrobial effect and destroy harmful bacteria like listeria.
Combating the Capacity to Spread Disease
The research team found that low concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids do not destroy listeria bacteria. Rather, the specific genes that are responsible for the bacterium's ability to cause disease, were turned off. The research team theorizes that the fatty acids affect the PrfA protein in a way that prevents it from switching on the virulence genes. The question is what, exactly, is occurring.
Permitting the Bacterium to Live is a Better Approach
On the surface, it might sound a bit odd to let the bacteria live. The bacteria is determined to be harmless and therefore, allowed to live. This is actually quite a helpful advantage. Bacterium growth that is not threatened will not develop advanced survival strategies that might make it immune from attacks. It is possible for bacteria to gradually develop a powerful resistance to threats. Such a development leads to new and larger problems for combating them. This is precisely why Kallipolitis believes it is more prudent to let them exist and attempt to neutralize their capacity to spur disease.
Antimicrobial medium- and long-chain free fatty acids prevent PrfA-dependent activation of virulence genes in Listeria monocytogenes, Research in Microbiology https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resmic.2017.03.002