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Peptides from probiotic bacteria promise natural anti-listeria protection

Article-Peptides from probiotic bacteria promise natural anti-listeria protection

© Innodal Innodal Salmon -1.jpg
In Canada, seafood processors are eschewing chemical preservatives and embracing a new antimicrobial based on bacteriocins as a natural way of protecting against listeria.

Since the early noughties, academic researchers at Laval University in Quebec have been developing a new generation of synthesised antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) to eliminate pathogenic bacteria from food products. But it wasn’t until biotechnologist Laurent Dallaire and chemist François Bédard set up Innodal as a university spin-off seven years ago that the technology made it out of the lab.

“Most of the partners in the research programme were food processors in the meat and seafood industry who were looking for alternatives to the traditional preservatives or chemical sanitisers that are currently used. But nobody had the knowledge to bring the technology to market.

“So, we set about scaling up this concept that was working in a very controlled lab environment, to see if we could make it affordable, feasible, and efficient at an industrial level,” Dallaire told this publication.

The concept is the development of antimicrobial agents based on bacteriocins – peptides that are produced by probiotic bacteria as a natural defence mechanism. The peptides inhibit microbiological pathogens by targeting bacterial membrane permeabilisation, a process that kills the pathogen cells.

“The peptide will recognise a specific receptor on the surface of the pathogen. It then fixes itself to that receptor and opens it, which is what we mean by permeabilising the cell. Essentially it creates holes in the pathogen so that the contents of the cell escape and the bacteria itself dies from this process,” explained Dallaire.

Bacteriocins have a targeted effect

The interesting point about bacteriocins is that they have a very specific and targeted effect in that they will only attack one type of pathogen – whether that is listeria or salmonella – in comparison with antibiotics or chemicals, which have a broad spectrum effect, Dallaire said.

“You have this scalpel effect that is very strain-specific. This is particularly beneficial when the product in question is a cheese or a cured sausage, where you want to have a fermentation but there is a risk of contamination from a pathogenic strain. This solution means you can get rid of the pathogen without altering or reducing the fermentation that is necessary to make the product.”

Innodal’s initial focus has been on the commercialisation of Pediocin PA-1 M31L, a synthesised bacteriocin composed of 44 amino acids and marketed under the brand name Inneo. It is based on the sequence of the natural bacteriocin PA-1 produced by a probiotic strain that is isolated from fermented food products.

In 2021, Inneo became the first antimicrobial protein to be approved as a food processing aid by Health Canada, when Innodal received a Letter of No Objection (LONO) for its use against listeria monocytogenes and other gram-positive bacteria in meat, poultry, fruit, vegetables, fish, seafood, cheese, and other dairy products.

Inneo’s classification as a processing aid is due to its mode of action, which leaves no traces of the bacteria in the food product, Dallaire explained:

“If the peptide recognises a receptor, the bacteria dies from emptying itself. If there is no listeria to connect with, the intrinsic proteases in the food will break down the peptide into amino acids that are already present in all food products, with no lasting technical effect on the treated foods,” he said.

No gut microflora disruption, says Innodal

Some research has suggested that nisin, also a bacteriocin, may disrupt the gut microbiome when used as a natural preservative. However, Dallaire said that this was not a concern for Inneo, owing to its strain-specific mode of action.

“Compared to nisin, Inneo has a different mode of action. The mechanism we are using is effective against listeria but not against other pathogens. If you try and target too broad a spectrum of effect, that is when you push resistance; you push the microbiome to develop resistance against your tool.”

He added that impurity is another issue with nisin that could be causing disruption in the gut.

“When companies buy nisin, a lot of the time what they are actually buying is 5% nisin and a bunch of something else, including salts and fermentation byproducts. Our product contains 100% bacteria, nothing else, so there is no risk of any side effects being caused by other products that we are not aware of and can’t control.”

Companies across Canada are already using Inneo, with usage most prevalent in the seafood sector.

“For these manufacturers, Inneo is a tool that is helping them to export worldwide,” said Dallaire.

Seeking regulatory approval in other markets

In term of authorisation in other markets, Inneo’s approval status is pending.

“We’re in the final stage and are hoping to have [generally recognised as safe] GRAS approval by August. This will be a major milestone as it will allow us access to all the Americas,” said Dallaire.

He confirmed that Innodal would be targeting EU approval for 2026.

Whilst the majority of Innodal’s customers are in the seafood sector, Inneo is also in commercial use for treating ready-to-eat products such as smoothies, pesto sauces, and sliced apples, where there is a risk of listeria contamination.

Innodal is also looking to commercialise a bacteriocin solution against salmonella and to move into other industries.

“It is going to be really interesting to see it develop in different fields because there’s bacteria everywhere, so there is potential everywhere,” said Dallaire.