Anti-Biofilm Food Packaging

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        Hebrew U researcher discovers how to kill ‘slime’
        With Michael Brandwein’s work on bacterial biofilm disruption, fresh fruits and vegetables can once again be safe
        BY DAVID SHAMAH June 18, 2014, 7:25 pm 1

        Graduate student and Kaye Innovation Award winner Michael Brandwein (L), and his mentor, Prof. Doron Steinberg from the Hebrew University’s Biofilm Research Laboratory. (Photo credit: Hebrew University)
        David Shamah


        Michael Brandwein, an American immigrant to Israel and a grad student at Hebrew University, has developed a solution to disrupt the bacteria that grows in packaging, preventing the formation of biofilm that infects produce shipments and compromise the health of millions.

        Using a molecule synthesized at Hebrew University, Brandwein was able to interfere with the genetic processes that lead to the formation of biolfilm. Besides preventing bacterial biofilm formation in fruits and vegetables, said Brandwein, the technology could ensure that shipped frozen and fresh foods of all kinds are safer when they get to the consumer.

        Most people know it as “slime,” but the goo that grows on numerous household surfaces, such as countertops, sinks, fruits and vegetables, is officially called “bacterial biofilm,” and consists of germs that researchers believe are at the root of many persistent and chronic bacterial infections.

        For his efforts, Brandwein, a researcher under the supervision of Prof. Doron Steinberg from the Biofilm Research Laboratory of the Hebrew University’s Dental Faculty, was chosen as one of two graduate students to receive a Kaye Innovation Award during the 77th annual meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors on June 11. He is set to receive his master’s degree in biomedical sciences at the Hebrew University this year.

        As people around the world seek out more healthful diets, demand for fresh fruits and vegetables has grown. To satisfy demand, food wholesalers are shipping more produce from further distances. Shipping containers provide a fertile atmosphere for the formation of the bacteria that form biofilms. The bacteria thrive in the moist, closed environment, and eventually begin to emit a slimy, gluelike substance that sticks to whatever surface they attach themselves to. That goo makes bacteria far more dangerous than “dry” germs, scientists say. The slime is more difficult to remove, and includes a higher-than-usual concentration of bacteria.

        In the case of produce shipments, the surface of the fruits and vegetables themselves gets covered in biofilm. Unless they are cleaned thoroughly, that produce could become the very opposite of healthy. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne diseases cause an estimated 48 million illnesses each year in the US, 45 percent of which are caused by bacteria.

        Scientists have discovered that biofilms form when bacteria “communicate” with each other, via a process called “quorum sensing.” When molecules in bacteria detect germs in sufficient quantity, they trigger a genetic process that leads to the formation of biofilm. In his research, Brandwein discovered that a molecule called TZD, synthesized at Hebrew University, had the ability to interfere with this genetic process. Added to packaging and shipping crates, TZD prevented the formation of biofilm, resulting in cleaner, healthier produce.

        Brandwein developed the solution for corrugated cardboard boxes, the worldwide medium for transporting the vast majority of fresh agricultural produce. The technology was successfully incorporated into industry-specific acrylic polymers, meant to coat the corrugated cardboard used in fresh produce. Hebrew University, through its technology transfer company, Yissum, holds granted patents on the process, and has signed an agreement with B.G. Tech of Kibbutz Beit Guvrin for further development and commercialization.

        “While millions of dollars have been spent globally to develop antimicrobial polymers, no one has succeeded in developing and marketing anti-quorum sensing/anti-biofilm polymers. We therefore predict that our product will enjoy exclusivity for many years to come,” said Brandwein. “We envision our technology being applied to frozen food packaging, poultry and meat packaging and other areas within the food packaging industry.”

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