Food Science: Curb That Salmonella Infection With Gene Therapy

Post by Guest Blogger- Curtis Silver


As a former delicatessen/restaurant owner I am acutely aware of the laws surrounding proper food handling. However, not everyone or every place is as aware. Most times when you eat out at a restaurant you are putting your faith in a kitchen that may or may not have bribed the health inspector. Not to mention the dangers in your own kitchen if you don’t take the proper steps to cleanliness.

One of the most oft warned about dangers of the kitchen, and especially when dealing with raw meats & eggs, is Salmonella. This bacteria is particularly nasty, and especially resilient to most modern antibiotics. According to the CDC, there are 42,000 reported cases a year in the United States, which is probably 29 times less than the actual number of cases, most of them not being reported. With those, there are few deaths but the bacteria is hard to stop or control.

Until now.

Professor Jay Hinton, Stokes Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at Trinity College Dublin and his research team have recently published a paper outlining their findings related to the Salmonella bacteria. What did they find? Well, the team was able to isolate multiple gene switches in the bacteria, switches that could possibly be turned on or off.

“It’s a decade since we discovered the Salmonella genes active during infection of mammalian cells,” said Professor Hinton. “Now we have found the switches that control these critical genes. My team has gained an unprecedented view of the way that Salmonella modulates the level of the weapon systems that cause human disease.”

While this is good news for folks that prefer to drink a glass of raw eggs in the morning, the proposed “cure” is still a good decade off. While discovering these switches in Salmonella are a true breakthrough, creating a new set of antibiotics will take some time. The team identified 60 new RNA molecules, called ‘small RNAs’ that can be used to activate the switches in the bacteria.

“Just five years ago, we didn’t realise that small RNAs played such an important role – or that the switches of so many Salmonella genes were controlled by small RNAs. Identifying these small RNAs could lead to completely new ways to prevent bacterial disease, but this will take at least a decade, ” said Professor Hinton.

Hypothetically, the future antibiotics will contain some sort of gene therapy aimed at the bacteria in your system. This is good news for the reported 400,000 people worldwide that either get infected with or die from Salmonella each year. Of course, outside the United States most of these cases are environmental and already in places where things like antibiotics are in short supply.

If you don’t already know about the dangers of Salmonella, here’s the basics. Don’t consume raw meats or eggs. When you cut raw meat on the cutting board, especially chicken, either clean the cutting board under piping hot water with antibacterial soap or use a clean cutting board before cutting veggies or anything else. A good lesson is to never cut raw meats on a wooden cutting board, as the wood can soak in and retain any moisture which may contain bacteria such as Salmonella. Use a plastic cutting board.

When eating out, I don’t expect you to inspect the kitchen, but inspect your food. Make sure that your eggs are cooked. As an aside, I always order my eggs over medium when I want them over easy because most restaurants are moving so quick in the kitchen, they often under cook eggs, the white bit should not be runny or liquid. If you think that means it’s over easy, you are wrong. Over easy is when the yellow bit is still liquid.

Salmonella is a nasty little bacteria, causing a whole slate of problems that you might attribute to basic food poisoning (which is a symptom) so hopefully with the help of scientists like Dr. Hinton we’ll see the development of a competent antibiotic so we can go back to drinking that delicious glass of raw eggs before our 12 mile run every morning. Cause we all like to do that, right?

Image: Flickr Public Domain Photos

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