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Can natural enemies of Listeria make your poultry safe?

Posted by Dr. Ben Libberton on January 6, 2012  |   No Comments »

Bacteriophage reproduce inside the Listeria cell before bursting out to produce hundreds more bacteriophage, capable of killing more Listeria cells

A recent study has shown that natural enemies of Listeria can be used to dramatically reduce the numbers of bacterial cells present on the surface of pre-cooked chicken – a very good thing I’m sure you’ll agree.


So what are these “natural enemies” and where do they come from?

Well the enemies in question are viruses of bacteria called bacteriophage (meaning bacteria eater). However, these bacteriaphage don’t actually eat bacteria. They trick the bacteria into taking the bacteriophage inside the cell, where it can then reproduce. Once the bacteriophage have significantly increased in numbers they burst and kill the bacterial cell, release hundreds of new bacterial enemies into the surroundings. Pretty good right? These bacteriophage are very specific to certain bacteria e.g. a Listeria bacteriophage can only infect Listeria (usually). They are also completely safe for humans to consume as they have no effect on human cells and are destroyed by stomach acids.

Where do they come from? Well bacteriophage are all around us and are usually isolated from the environment. Ironically however, these particular “Listeria killing” bacteriophage were actually isolated from sheep faeces! Who would have though that sheep faeces hold the key to Listeria free poultry.

The idea of using bacteriophage as a method of biocontrol has been around for a long time and has also been trialled in medicine. However, they have not been widely used as they are biological entities and the full effects of using them is not fully known.

B. Bigot, W.-J. Lee, L. McIntyre, T. Wilson, J.A. Hudson, C. Billington, J.A. Heinemann, Control of Listeria monocytogenes growth in a ready-to-eat poultry product using a bacteriophage, Food Microbiology, Volume 28, Issue 8, December 2011, Pages 1448-1452, ISSN 0740-0020, 10.1016/j.fm.2011.07.001.
Keywords: Biocontrol; Listeria monocytogenes; Food

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