August 18, 2006

Mmmm.... bacteriophages.

They're going to be spraying viruses on meat (so the viruses can eat the bacteria). Sorry, that completely grosses me out! Or should I be enthusiastic about this because it's natural?

29 comments:

HaloJonesFan said...

Next they'll spray prions on the meat to eat the viruses.

Then they'll spray fullerene spheres on the meat to eat the prions.

Then they'll swallow a dog to catch the cat, that they swallowed to catch the mouse, that they swallowed to catch the spider, that they swallowed to catch the fly...

Mark the Pundit said...

So they are going to spray this stuff on meat to kill a bacteria that kills "hundreds of people" each year? Sounds like an overreaction to me.

I wonder what happens if we learn that the virus-treated meat suddently kills more people than the non-treated meat...

Mark the Pundit said...

...epecially when choking on food kills over 3,000 per year...

tiggeril said...

Ugh. I'd rather have bacteria-laden cold cuts rather than virus-laden cold cuts, thank you.

Daryl Herbert said...

I wonder what happens if we learn that the virus-treated meat suddently kills more people than the non-treated meat...

You already know the answer... there will be a lawsuit. But please, explain to me how bacteriophages are going to cause us problems?

If you really did comprehend how many microscopic organisms were in and on you at all times, and just what they were up to, you'd turn into Howard Hughes. Don't fight the virus--embrace and accept it.

MadisonMan said...

...and when the bacteria evolves to resist the virus, then what?

Dave said...

Irradiation.

What virus are they going to use? HIV?

Tibore said...

I'm sorta on the fence on this one, but before anyone overreacts, keep in mind that the body is exposed to countless pathogens daily, and we're only affected by a few of them (influenza, strep, etc.). Also, keep in mind that we're probably already consuming a small level of such bacteriophages simply by eating meat to begin with.

And, if there's an environment that can really break down a miroorganism, it's the stomach.

My questions would be on the phages themselves, such as: What are the implications of human infection? A phage killing off beneficial bacterial in the human gut would be a problem, although the story does note that the phage is targeted only at Listeria, so maybe human infection's not an issue. And again: The environment of the human stomach would break that stuff down in a hurry, so it'd be unusual cases where the phage survived to infect the rest of the gut, if such an infection is even possible to begin with.

And, Professor: I don't know about being enthusiastic about it, but it's probably a whole lot less impact on the human body compared to, say, preservatives or antibiotics.

Tibore said...

Madisonman,

The phage is supposed to be used in packaged foods, so while some bacteria may evolve defenses, they'll end up in an isolated environment (the can/bag/box/whatever) and not be able to spread their evolved resistance to other clusters of bacteria. Assuming that Listeria is kept away from the packaging and spraying equipment, that is. If it's not, then resistence can develop on those surfaces, and can potentially pass on, since they wouldn't be isolated to the package.

Dave,

The article said they're using bacteriophages that target Listeria monocytogenes.

Maxine Weiss said...

We vegetarians don't worry about such things.

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

I was a vegetarian for a few years a while back. It's not hard to get yourself riled up about the disgustingness of eating carrion, if that's what you want to do. Of course, you could freak out about all the bacteria and extremely tiny insects and mites and things that are everywhere. I suppose there is a horrific layer to life that is unbearable if you choose to think about it. But what is the alternative? Even more horrific. We must live in the world and deal with it. And, personally, I learned I need meat for my health.

Meade said...

Vegetarians have plenty to worry about. Raw vegetables can carry the bacterium.

Can listeriosis be prevented?

The general guidelines recommended for the prevention of listeriosis are similar to those used to help prevent other foodborne illnesses, such as salmonellosis.

How can you reduce your risk for listeriosis?

General recommendations:

Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.

Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.

Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/listeriosis_g.htm

Mark the Pundit said...

And, personally, I learned I need meat for my health.

I believe Laura Dern learned the same lesson.

$CAV3NG3R said...

And, personally, I learned I need meat for my health

Sorry prof but you set yourself up for that one....but then again maybe this is one of those things the savoir faire of times past would not allow one to point out.

Now for my act of contrition followed by multitudes of Hail Marys...

Ruth Anne Adams said...

And, personally, I learned I need meat for my health.

Just not on Fridays during Lent.

altoids1306 said...

If that seems gross, then you probably don't want to know how your body gets some of its amino acids.

SMGalbraith said...

Yummy, bacteria.

Problem: Red wine or white?

SMG

Jim Chen said...

Believe it or not, I've written a law review article on bacteriophages (among many other things). The Phages of American Law, or simply http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=785524 if you prefer seeing the naked URL.

Hey said...

just to be pedantic, but a bacteriophage virus doesn't "eat" bacteria.

it kills it and uses the bacteria to replicate itself.

virii don't do much of anything, in that they are inert strands of DNA/RNA that are only active once they are taken within a living cell.

/pedantry

Jim Hu said...

To be even more pedantic, while the phage don't eat the bacteria, the root of phage is from the Greek phagein:to eat

I work with phage, so I think this is pretty cool. Listeria and other bacterial food poisoning doesn't kill that many people, but it makes many more sick.

Phage are the most numerous organisms on earth, btw. There are about 10X more phage in the oceans than there are bacterial cells.

Editor Theorist said...

The other great thing about phages is that they look like lunar module aliens:

http://www.biochemeng.bio.titech.ac.jp/research/phage/phage.html

The 'yuk' response to new technology soon wears off, if you let it. When 'test tube babies' were invented in 1978, I thought it was gross - even though I was at medical school. But of course it has been a marvellous thing, and brought huge benefits.

Erick said...

Two words: Irradiation. oh, um, Irradiation.

Richard Fagin said...

Amen, Erik. (That was two words). You will, however have to slip it past the sociopaths at Pure Food and Water in New York.

Jonathan said...

Yes, never mind any empirical evidence of the benefits of this innovative viral treatment. Let's reject it because it sounds icky. I'm sure the FDA ignored all evidence and decided to approve this process based on nothing more than a coin flip, because we all know that's how the FDA operates.

Of course irradiation would be even better, but the "icky" crowd has made it a commercial nonstarter, so we have to try alternatives like virus sprays.

Chum said...

Will the use of prions sprayed on meat cause meat plant inspections to become less stringent? It seems, frequently when there is an e-coli incident, the cause was sloppy practice with feces mixed in the butchered meat.

JoeOlson said...

"hundreds of people a year"! We are going to spary meat (that if cooked properly would already be safe) with a virus so that we can save "hundreds" of people a year.

Not to sound like the director of the Ford Pinto production group but what is the cost of this new meat treatment. Wouldn't it be cheaper to make home economics a required high school class.

Dr. Melissa said...

To my "icky" frightened friends,
This is a good development. In fact, if this type treatment works on the meat, hopefully it will be introduced into hospitals where in small studies it has shown to greatly diminish the existence (on equipment, pens, in air ducts, everywhere) of antibiotic resistence bacteria.

Benefits? Less drugs, less chemical microbacides, no side-effects. It's all good.

Gibbie the labrat said...

Agreed with above; this is a good development (it's brilliant, why didn't I think of it?) Bacteriophages like T7 attack only microbes, not higher organisms (ie us). So we would have to worry less about bacterial contamination of meat products. Some will slip through, but this is probably a pretty cheap way of saving lives; maybe its just 1000 people per year, but isn't that worth something? Perhaps not billions of dollars, but anyway..

Vic said...

The concept of phages sounds interesting but does generate a wide reaction as evidenced in this blog and others.

While we work out the cost/benefits perhaps manufacturers of food, beverages and cosmetics should consider a new natural preservative which uses Australian culinary herb extracts. It is called Herbal-Active (just Google it) and is already being used to preserve a bunch of foods and cosmetics. Its safety, low cost and no risk use provides a certain appeal over the move of phages from treating biological infections to food preservation.

Incidentally, the references to the few thousand who die from food borne diseases each year as a low number ignore the fact that it is such a low number because of preservatives. Without them, it would be in the tens of millions. The challenge now is to eradicate harmful preservatives such as sorbate and benzoate and Herbal-Active does exactly that.