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Viruses the New Condiment 363

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the hold-the-e-coli dept.
Lip writes to tell us that a new bacteria killing virus has been deemed safe by the FDA as a food additive for ready-to-eat meats. These bacteriophages are designed to kill a common microbe (Listeria monocytogenes bacteria) to which hundreds of deaths every year have been attributed. From the article: "The viruses are grown in a preparation of the very bacteria they kill, and then purified. The FDA had concerns that the virus preparation potentially could contain toxic residues associated with the bacteria. However, testing did not reveal the presence of such residues, which in small quantities likely wouldn't cause health problems anyway, the FDA said."
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Viruses the New Condiment

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  • Small quantities (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Skotlake (891399) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:39PM (#15941102) Homepage
    . . which in small quantities likely wouldn't cause health problems anyway . .

    But small quantities build up over time! I got a fortune cookie a few weeks ago that puts it best: "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."
  • What happens.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pickyouupatnine (901260) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:45PM (#15941130) Homepage
    .. after you've eaten it? Does the virus then die off in your digestive track? How does it die - when it has run out of bacteria to consume??
  • by Luxifer (725957) <geek4hire@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:00PM (#15941203)
    Ok, lets give you truth in labelling: your tap water contains a hundred trillion of these phages in every glass, but most are specific for other species. While we're at it, about 4 pounds of your body weight is bacteria. That's about the mass of your brain.
        Do you think if we told the public that any given piece of meat has x billion bacteria on it that it would be useful information to them? Plants too, so none of that herbivore crap.
        How about this, your food is inspected and is maintained within the strict standards set by those in charge of your health. That is a good label that can go on all your food.
        Sodium and fat content are useful so you can set your diet. The food's safety shouldn't even be a question, so putting it on the package is pointless.
        Genetic modification has been going on for 10 thousand years by us and a few billion by nature. Unless you're one of those Intelligent Design whacks. If you are, I have one word for you:

    Evolve.
  • Re:Mutation? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RsG (809189) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:32PM (#15941318)
    Point taken. However, "survival strategy" generally doesn't imply conscious decision, rather it implies what the virus has specifically developed for. In this context, the virus has evolved to infect bacteria, which are quite different from human or animal cells. It's not a question of whether it is "wise" for it to infect those cells, but whether it even could in the first place.

    As to ancient viruses jumping species from bacteria to animal cells, what makes you think that humans and modern animals are anything like the first multi-cellural organisms, aside from the obvious point of having more than one cell? So far as I know, immune systems didn't develop until well after organisms became multi-cellular, due to the fact that such systems require specialized dedicated cells evolved to fight infection.

    It's much easier to see a disease organism jumping from a single celled organism to a cluster of cells that have only just begun to act as a group, than it is to see a virus that had no prior evolutionary adaptation to immune responses infect a complex organism with an immune system. The "arms race" between animal cells and viruses to develop/survive immune responses accounts for why modern viral infections are capable of surviving an assault by the human immune system, whereas bacteriophages lack those millions of years of adaptation.

    I am aware of no examples of bacteriophages jumping species to animals. Presumably they do share a common ancestor with the common cold, but that's likely so far back that using that common ancestor as proof that they could jump to humans is illogical.
  • by Trepalium (109107) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:47PM (#15941365)
    Most people's fears come from the business world constantly (and consistently) putting profits ahead of public health.
    Except no one has provided any evidence whatsoever that genetically modified foods are less healthy. All you have is Greenpeace's paranoid ravings about frankenfood, and how it's "not natural". We do not require labels for hybridized foods, or any other type of food we might breed inside or outside of a laboratory, so why single out GM? Is it simply because people have watched far too many monster movies where an unwitting scientist unleashes a monster on the world?
  • Re:phages (Score:3, Interesting)

    by retro128 (318602) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:07PM (#15941427)
    It doesn't have to mutate to infect animal/plant cells to cause damage. There are many beneficial bacteria that lives in our bodies. What happens if the bacteriophages mutated to start killing off those? All sorts of intestinal problems can be caused by the destruction of the beneficial bacteria that live there. If that happened, how would you then kill the bacteriophage? Your immune system wouldn't respond to it because it's not attacking any of your cells. I'd sure like to hear what a microbiologist has to say about this scenario.

    Don't get me wrong - in the age of antibiotic resistant bacteria, I think that bacteriophages are the next step to combat them. But putting them in the general food supply? For me, the jury's out on that one.
  • by thrill12 (711899) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:54PM (#15941596) Journal
    Moderators, before reading this post or even comprehensing its contents, mark me FLAMEBAIT please and get off with it.

    For the interested parties, read on...

    What is it nowadays (..) in the US that makes food-safety a non-issue with regards to new technologies ? Often Europe is being seen as "the old world", where we boycot a lot of products from countries 'without reason'. Europe is 'old-fashioned', 'isolates' itself, is perhaps even 'afraid to try new things'. I wonder if this is true and whether we didn't learn anything from our mistakes.

    There was a time when heroin was made into a medicine [wikipedia.org] by a medical company in Europe. And there was a time when asbestos was used as a flame retardant, only to be discovered by the US none the less that it was in fact sickening. [wikipedia.org]

    It seems that we live in a brave new world now, in which these things are no longer deemed as important. We are back 100 years again, and this new technology (bio-engineering) has taken hold of us. When we finally get bitten by it, and I feel that on the current way there is no escaping this - independent of the above article which could indeed prove to be quite harmless as said..- will we open our eyes again ?

    Maybe Europe is old-fashioned, and we should experiment with ourselves more often. Who knows what good it will bring.

    Europe is probably too narrow-minded, and boycotting products will only delay the inevitable.
    But still, I wonder what will happen if any of these brave new products does turn out to be "faulty". Will it backlash and totally invert current stance towards bio-engineering, negating all the hard and good work that HAS been done in this field - for which there is no denying ?

    Perhaps, for the sake of the field of bio-engineering, we should guide the technology along better - give it time to grow up like any living thing in its earliest stage of life. And when we have guided it along, we - Europe - will come to find that it is indeed a brave new world, a world which we should embrace.

  • Re:Mutation? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kitten Killer (766858) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @05:14PM (#15941807)
    Oh god the horrors of orgo-chem. I nearly failed that. In fact, I still know next to nothing about it, but look at me! I'm doing my Masters in Microbiology. And no, I've never, ever had to synthesize my own organic molecules, and I don't deal with the metabolism of microbes. I do mainly molecular microbiology and pathogenesis, so lucky for me I guess. Is it too late to change your mind and talk you back into doing biology?
  • by radtea (464814) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @05:30PM (#15941860)
    Except no one has provided any evidence whatsoever that genetically modified foods are less healthy

    This is not the issue.

    The issue is: KNOWING WHAT WE ARE BUYING SO WE CAN MAKE INFORMED CHOICES.

    That is all. That is the only issue. It is an issue of the freedom to choose, and the knowledge required to make that choice.

    I want to know what agricultural practices I am supporting when I buy food. I have my reasons, and in a free country I should be allowed to act on those reasons. I neither know nor care what you, the FDA or Monsanto think of the issue.

    Freedom means the freedom to do things that other people think are irrational and ill-advised, so long as doing so does not take away other's freedom.

    If you can come up with a single argument as to why I should not be free to know what I am eating I'd like to see it.
  • No, it's simple. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by elucido (870205) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @07:24PM (#15942167)
    Instead of expecting the food industry to do it. Simply create the food security industry and do it yourself. Sell the magazine, I'll buy it, and I think most people here would buy it. Slashdot could test the food privately and release the results to the subscribers of this site. People want to know, and there is plenty of money in that. Let's thank the FDA, the Avian Flu, and MadCow disease for creating the new food security industry.

  • by donscarletti (569232) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @03:41AM (#15943296)
    Ok, by being modded up you have proved that slashdot's small government/libertarian slant has just gone nuts. If federal government didn't regulate the safety of food and water, who would do it? Would consumers do it? Consumers don't even read the packaging properly, consumers believe that unless they put borax into their soup or leave it on the kitchen counter for three days it will be safe to eat. Maybe the local governments can turn their minds from accepting bribes for planning permissions for long enough to test every single foodstuff that is imported into their municipality. I can't wait to see the impressive testing facilities built by the town of Bumblefuck Missisippi.

    If you like small government, consider moving to Somalia, a paradise on earth where the burdens of government are lifted off the population's shoulders and they are free to do whatever they like. Too bad the Kowloon walled city has been demolished, looks like there are less havens in this world, but maybe north Georgia is more to your tastes.

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