Research: Probiotic Drink could Offer New Way to Combat Antibiotic Resistance

A probiotic drink could become a promising new weapon in the battle against antibiotic resistant bacteria, after a team of scientists at the University of Birmingham engineered and patented a key genetic element that can tackle the genetic basis of resistance.

The team is now seeking funding for a clinical trial for the drink which has potential to work against many resistant bacteria commonly found in the human gut including E. coli, Salmonella and Klebsiella pneumoniae.

It works by targeting small DNA molecules, called plasmids, inside bacterial cells. These molecules frequently carry genes that give resistance to antibiotics, which the bacteria are able to use. The plasmids replicate independently, spreading between bacteria and carrying resistance genes with them.

By preventing the target plasmids from replicating, the team were able to displace the resistance genes available to the bacteria, effectively ‘re-sensitising’ them to antibiotics. Their results are published in the journal PLOS One.

Lead researcher, Professor Christopher Thomas, explained: “We were able to show that if you can stop the plasmid from replicating, then most of the bacteria lose the plasmid as the bacteria grow and divide. This means that infections that might otherwise be hard to control, even with the most powerful antibiotics available, are more likely to be treatable with standard antibiotics.”

The drink will contain bacteria (in a similar way to drinks like Yakult) carrying a new type of plasmid, which the researchers call pCURE plasmids. These work in two ways: they prevent the resistance plasmids from replicating and they also block a so-called ‘addiction system’ which the plasmids use to kill any bacteria that lose them. In this system, the resistance plasmid carries a stable toxin and an unstable antidote into the host cell. If the plasmid is lost from the cell, the antidote breaks down, leaving the harmful toxin to attack its host. pCURE plasmids also carry the antidote, ensuring that cells that lose the resistance plasmid survive and take over the gut.

Professor Thomas explains: “We manipulated our pCURE plasmids to incorporate genes that block the replication of the resistance plasmid. We also target the plasmid’s addiction system by designing our pCURE plasmids to ensure the antidote is still available to the host.”

The Birmingham team discovered that by doubling the number of copies of the pCURE plasmid in each bacterium it became very effective at displacing different types of resistance plasmids and would spread through laboratory cultures unaided, to clear out resistance.

The team then collaborated with colleagues in the University of Sydney, Australia, to test the pCURE plasmids in mice. They found the pCURE plasmids worked effectively, but needed to be ‘primed’ by giving the mice an initial dose of antibiotic to reduce the number of competing bacteria. The next step is to see if plasmids can spread fast enough in human volunteers to get rid of resistance plasmids.

“This is a promising start,” says Professor Thomas. “We aim to make modifications to further improve the efficacy of our pCURE plasmids before moving towards a first clinical trial.”

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time,” adds Professor Thomas. “We need to be tackling this on a number of different fronts including by reducing our use of antibiotics and searching for new, more effective drugs. Our approach, which tackles one of the causes of antimicrobial resistance at a genetic level, could be an important new weapon in this battle.”

Source: University of Birmingham

Scientists Develop Superbug-resistant, Self-cleaning Plastic Wrap

Amy Woodyatt wrote . . . . . . . . .

Researchers have developed a self-cleaning plastic wrap that repels bacteria — and could be used to prevent the transfer of antibiotic resistant superbugs, and other forms of dangerous bacteria.

A team of scientists from Canada’s McMaster University used a combination of nano-scale surface engineering and chemistry to develop a plastic surface — a treated form of transparent wrap — which repels all kinds of bacteria.

The coating, inspired by water-resistant lotus leaves, is textured with microscopic “wrinkles” that block out external molecules and are chemically treated, meaning that water, blood or bacteria bounce away when they come into contact with the surface.

The plastic covering can be shrink wrapped onto surfaces that are considered common breeding grounds for bacteria like MRSA — such as door handles, railings and IV stands.

“We developed the wrap to address the major threat that is posed by multi-drug resistant bacteria,” Leyla Soleymani, an engineering physicist who co-led the research, published Friday in the journal ACS Nano, told CNN.

“Given the limited treatment options for these bugs, it is key to reduce their spread from one person to another,” she added.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States every year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result of these drug-resistant infections.

The researchers believe the new material could also be used to package food, and could stop the spread of bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria from raw meats and foods.

Some 20% of all drug-resistant infections come from the food we eat, according to the CDC.

“We’re structurally tuning that plastic,” Soleymani said in a statement. “This material gives us something that can be applied to all kinds of things,” she added.

The surface, the researchers say, is durable, flexible and inexpensive to make.

They tested the material using MRSA and Pseudomonas — considered the most dangerous forms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — using electron microscope images to confirm that virtually no bacteria could transfer to the surface.

“We can see this technology being used in all kinds of institutional and domestic settings,” Tohid Didar, who co-led the research, said. “As the world confronts the crisis of anti-microbial resistance, we hope it will become an important part of the anti-bacterial toolbox,” he said.

Source: CNN

Video: Which of These Mushrooms Could Kill You?

There are tens of thousands of mushroom species out there, and some of them could kill you.

This video is going to test how well you can separate the perfectly safe from the perilously poisonous, and dive into the chemistry behind what makes seemingly identical species so different.

Watch video at You Tube (5:45 minutes) . . . . .

First Public Taste Test of Cultured Fish Maw in Hong Kong

Catherine Lamb wrote . . . . . . . . .

For many Western consumers, “fish maw” is an unfamiliar foodstuff. However, in China and other surrounding regions, the ingredient, which is technically the dried swim bladders of large fish like sturgeon, is considered a delicacy. For that reason, it’s both extremely expensive and leading to extreme overfishing. There’s even a black market for the stuff.

In Hong Kong, startup Avant Meats is finding a more sustainable way to feed hunger for fish maw by growing it outside the animal. The company got one step closer to that goal last month, when they did the first public taste test of their cultured fish maw at the Future Food Summit at Asia Society Hong Kong.

The fish maw, grown from cells from a croaker fish, was embedded in a potato ball which was then deep-fried. Obviously we didn’t get to taste it ourselves, but in a video sent to The Spoon taste testers noted the ball’s chewy, gelatinous texture, a hallmark of fish maw. Texture is one of the biggest hurdles for cell-based meat, so if Avant Meats has indeed nailed it that could serve them well as they head to market.

When I spoke with Avant Meats co-founder and CEO Carrie Chan back in March, she explained that they had decided to focus on fish maw as their first product because of it’s simple composition, which allows them to speed up R&D, scale quickly, and come to market at a lower price point. Another reason they chose to focus on fish maw is because of its popularity with consumers in China and Hong Kong, their initial target demographic. However, according to a press release sent to The Spoon, their next product will be a fish filet that is intended for both Eastern and Western menus.

This year has been a busy one for cultured meat companies in Asia. Back in March Shiok Meat debuted its cell-based shrimp in the startup’s home country of Singapore, and Japan-based Integriculture recently did a taste test of cultured foie gras.

American companies like Memphis Meats, JUST, and Wild Type have also done several tastings of their own cell-based products, some on significantly larger scales. However, since cell-based (cultivated?) meat will likely debut in Asia, it’s exciting to see the increase in cultured meat and seafood activity in the area — especially for products developed specifically to appeal to Asian palates.

Avant Meats has raised an undisclosed pre-seed round and has a team of four in its Hong Kong HQ. They’re hoping to reach pilot production by late 2022/early 2023.

Source: The Spoon

Inside the Little-known World of Flavourists, Who Are Trying to Make Plant-based Meat Taste Like the Real Thing

Laura Reiley wrote . . . . . . . . .

Marie Wright dips four long strips of paper, the kind you’d sniff a perfume sample from in Sephora, into bottles of clear liquid marked Methyl Cinnamate, Ethyl Butyrate, y-decalactone and Furaneol. She holds the four strips together and wafts them, fanlike, under her nose. Suddenly, the lab smells of strawberries.

Wright is the vice president and chief global flavorist for Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest food processors and suppliers. She’s a former French perfume industry chemist who has created more than 1,000 individual flavors for major food and beverage companies, and she’s now facing one of the biggest challenges of her career.

Consumers are seduced and beguiled by flavorists without even being aware of it. Flavorists are the people who tinker with nacho cheese dust, Hot Pockets and pumpkin spice lattes. They are the tastemakers, driving consumer trends and making food craveable.

Wright and the planet’s 200 or so other flavorists are bringing their alchemy to plant-based meat. It’s the biggest craze the food industry has seen in a long time, driven by concerns about climate change, animal welfare and human health. It is still dwarfed by the $49 billion beef industry; however, the Swiss investment firm UBS predicts growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion by 2030.

Despite its swift ascent, plant-based meat is the antithesis of recent trends such as local and farm-to-table dining, representing an embrace of highly processed foods made palatable in a laboratory by technicians such as Wright.

“These are great proteins from a nutritional perspective, but plant-based presents some challenges with tastes that can be unpleasant,” Wright says.

First, there is the masking of the vegetal “green” notes in pea protein and the “beany” notes in soy, often by adding other ingredients and chemicals.

Veggie burgers were living an idyllic little existence. Then they got caught in a war over the future of meat.

“There isn’t one magic bullet, not one molecule or extract. It tends to be common pantry items like salt, spices, molasses, honey,” Wright says. Vanilla extract is often used for masking because it is known for how it binds to a protein, rendering its own distinctive taste undetectable.

“It sacrifices itself,” she says.

She describes vegetal notes that are more about aromatics. The goal is not to remove these aromas, but to prevent them from being perceived.

“Smell and taste are closely linked in the appreciation of flavor but are independently triggered,” she says. “Taste is composed of the taste sensations perceived in the mouth and odor compounds perceived by the receptors in the nose linked to the olfactory lobe.”

Then comes the insertion of the mineral, musky, charry, “umami” flavors that we associate with meat.

Wright huddles with fellow flavorist Ken Kraut, who works only on the savory side. They swirl little plastic cups of clear liquid, sniffing and tasting. Too yeasty, they say. They want a little less soy and a bit more umami — that elusive, savory monosodium glutamate flavor. Mushrooms provide that, as does Japanese green tea. Meat’s mineralized note can be mimicked by concentrated extracts of broccoli and spinach.

They’ve got a deadline. A big client is coming in the following week to test blended veggie-chicken meatballs, a plant-based burger and a few other proprietary products. Everyone is launching a plant-based burger these days, and as quickly as possible.

“They want to do it in anywhere from six weeks to three months — there’s an urgency, a panic,” Wright says. “Usually, a product is a year to 18 months to complete.”

Wright says an ordinary product — a snack bar or a protein drink — might cost a client $10,000 to $200,000 to have ADM formulate a recipe, which the company can then produce in its own processing facilities. Plant-based meat is different.

“This whole area is expensive because it’s fairly high-tech, with a lot of dollars involved in research,” she says. “Something like this, you’re talking $100,000 to $1 million.”

There’s a lot of heavy lifting that goes into making vegan sea urchins out of soy and vegetable oils or sausage links out of lupin beans, a yellow and occasionally bitter legume. The world is agog at plant-based meats that taste uncannily like the real thing, but nutritionists warn that if companies increasingly rely on chemists to insert desirable flavors into food, consumers might temper their enthusiasm for this new raft of better-living-through-science processed foods.

With their pea protein isolates, their gum arabic and yeast extracts, these new foods are the opposite of whole foods, the obverse of transparent sourcing. Some nutritionists and food industry leaders are wondering if the food system is being led astray by foods that need their flavor and appeal inserted industrially.

“It doesn’t resemble the foods from which it came; it has a vast number of ingredients. It fully meets the definition of ultra-processed food,” says Marion Nestle, author and nutrition professor at New York University, about these new plant-based meats. “Are flavorists complicit? They always have been. These are industrially produced food to which flavors and textures and colors are added so it’s attractive. What they do is cosmetics.”

Back at the lab, Wright and the team nudge the burger formula, trying to achieve the aroma and flavors resulting from the Maillard reaction, a chemical process between amino acids and sugars as they reduce that gives caramelizing meat its distinctive seared flavor.

They dry liquids in a spray dryer, tiny droplets sent through a hot chamber in a stainless-steel box, the water driven off to produce powders. They consider the protein, the flavorings and the binders, looking for a mineral, bloody note and seeking appealing top notes that mimic seared sirloin. They go beyond sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness and umami, reaching for a lesser-known “sixth taste” sensation that the Japanese call kokumi, which translates as something like “heartiness” or “mouthfulness.”

Then they take their thoughts into the kitchen.

John Stephanian, ADM’s culinary director, went to culinary school but considers himself a culinologist, where the culinary arts and the science of food meet. He’s plating the plant-based burgers as the flavorists arrive, deep ruddy patties with charry grill marks, tucked onto glossy brioche buns with delicate Parmesan crisps. Wright tastes, appraising. How is the chew? Is it meaty enough?

Wright grew up east of London and studied chemistry at King’s College London. She worked in Europe for years, moved to New Jersey and commuted back and forth to South America to set up flavor labs. Salaries for flavorists vary widely, she says, from $50,000 to $500,000. Flavorist is a mentoring profession, with trainees spending years as underlings in places such as ADM’s Academy of Future Flavorists program. It takes seven to 10 years to achieve flavorist status, and 20 to be a senior flavorist, Wright says.

“Learning the materials takes three to four years. Like being a pianist, you have to practice. A trainee may do 20 to 30 versions of a flavor,” she says.

Flavorists work with beakers and magnetic stir bars. They work with gas chromatography mass spectrometry instruments that separate chemical mixtures and identify the components at a molecular level. They paint their pictures with essential oils, resinoids, concretes and absolutes, the building blocks of fragrance and flavor. But mostly, they use their noses and skills of prognostication.

Designing an average of 300 new products a year, flavorists have tens of millions of dollars riding on their senses and gut instincts about the next big thing in the food industry.

“There are so many influences from all over the world. If you’re going to hang your hat on a flavor for next year, you may be wrong,” Wright says.

It’s about reverse engineering, listening to clients’ visions while tracking trends and predicting consumer fetishes and preoccupations.

“Consumers are driving trends. Trends only used to come from high-end restaurants. Now, a lot of trends are coming from street foods,” she says. “The consumer has changed. They’re saying, ‘I’m not going to eat that, and I have a say.’ ”

She points to smaller food companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which have pushed food giants such as Cargill, Tyson Foods, Kellogg and Smithfield Foods into a headlong race to produce signature plant-based meats.

Before the day is over, Wright checks in with a flavorist working on an energy bar flavored with salted caramel, then with a team in the mint lab working on a gum that both cools and tingles. She tastes a nitro coffee, deciding whether it should be flavored with Madagascar or Ugandan vanilla — the former classic and beany, the latter sweeter with a hint of milk chocolate.

And about that burger. Nondisclosure agreements prevent her from naming the company behind this plant-based burger, but the meeting is a success, the company’s team staying for two days to hash out the details.

“They liked aspects of it, and they also wanted some changes in the fat delivery. They wanted a bit more of that bloody, minerally note and more of that seared taste, as well as that melty quality you get with animal fat,” Wright says.

“A few years ago, they didn’t have to taste so fantastic, but now we can really replicate a meat product without meat,” she says.

Clients often provide nutritional and price guidelines, with the ADM team working within constraints such as calorie counts or projected retail cost. Once the formulation has been approved, the client gets the recipe, frequently having it produced and packaged by a co-manufacturing facility. Wright and her group don’t produce the finished, packaged product. They invent the formula.

With food technology and the culinary zeitgeist moving so swiftly, predicting what will resonate with consumers is tricky — even with Wright’s expanding toolbox of ingredients and food technologies.

“It’s a huge area of investment,” Wright says. “If it doesn’t taste delicious, people are not going to buy it.”

Source: The Washington Post