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Viruses the New Condiment 363

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:33PM (#15941069)
    AFAIK there aren't any phage-type viruses that can infect humans with intact immune systems. They're too big and obvious for our white cells not to notice.
  • phages (Score:5, Informative)

    by Luxifer ( 725957 ) <geek4hireNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:40PM (#15941108)
    This is very cool. I remember the Russians were working on killing bacterial infections in people (Tuberculosis, Leprosy, even Flesh eating disease) with Phages. That was in the 70s. It's about time someone came up with something successful.
        By the way these are completely harmless to humans, in fact to all plants and animals. The phage is a very simple virus with a small genome that gets injected into the bacterium and does the standard virus things (hijacks the host's systems to replicate itself a billion times). The cell explodes, releasing billions more phages. These phages have been our tools for a long time in biology, we use them to move genes around, for making libraries of genes, all sorts of neato stuff. There's little we don't know about them, so they're a good candidate for this task. There is no way these can make the leap from infecting bacteria to infecting higher organisms, any more than a plant could suddenly start walking around.
        I could think of a few things that are possible, for example if it mutated enough to find our host bacteria a good target then that might cause problems, but again, very doubtful.
  • Re:Mutation? (Score:5, Informative)

    by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:41PM (#15941117)
    What's more, a virus whose survival strategy is to infect bacteria doesn't really gain anything from trying to infect animal cells. When was the last time we had any infection, with or without human intervention, that made such an enourmous leap? Hell, it's hard enough for disease organisms to jump from one similar species of animal to another, let alone from bacteria to animals. Even examples like bird flu are going from one large, warm blooded animal to another.

    I'd actually think it more likely that the bacteriophages would go after the bacteria living in our digestive system, which would likely cause many of the same problems that a round of antibiotics does - ie, diarhea - but which is also simple to cure by recolonizing your intestines with those same bacteria (no colonizing your colon jokes please). So the cure for the bacteriophage run amok B-movie style would be... yogurt actually.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:44PM (#15941127)
    I totally agree. labelling is NEVER a bad idea. This is called being transparent...
  • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:45PM (#15941131)
    Ever had strong antibiotics? One of the bits of advice they give you is to eat stuff like yogurt once you're done the treatment.

    The reason for this is that antibiotics will kill off your own symbiotic bacteria in addition to the infection they're supposed to cure. However, replacing those same intestianal bacteria is incredibly easy with the right foodstuffs.
  • by Assassin bug ( 835070 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:57PM (#15941185) Journal
    It's a bacteriophage [wikipedia.org]. These things target specific bacteria and it is thought that it is very difficult for bacteria to develope resistance against them. So, they are a much better option and probably less environmentally sensitive that most general antibiotics (to which many bacteria have developed resistance). If you don't know what these phages are you should really visit the Wiki link above (they are really wicked looking and interesting).
  • Re:What happens.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kitten Killer ( 766858 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:59PM (#15941194)
    It's likely only capable of infecting Listeria. Once inside your digestive tract, it'll get killed by stomach acids, digestive enzymes, etc. etc. Anything that gets into your system (i.e. outside the digestive tract) will be taken care of by your immune system and the rest goes into the toilet.
  • minor typo... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:00PM (#15941198) Journal
    It should be 'bacteria-killing virus'. A virus that kills bacteria. The hyphen is important, it differentiates between 'man-eating shark' and 'man eating shark'.

    Probably the tenth time I've complained about grammar on slashdot :)

  • by tijnbraun ( 226978 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:04PM (#15941217)
    probably not... viruses are often host specific. They have to attach to specific receptors to enter the cell. So as long as the bacteria in our digestive tract do not share the surface proteins with Listeria, the bacteriophage will only tarcet Listeria.
  • affect vs effect (Score:2, Informative)

    by bar-agent ( 698856 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:08PM (#15941239)
    Could these viruses effect the bacteria that exist in our digestive tracts?

    You mean affect. The verb effect means "to bring about," which is opposite of what you want it to mean here.
  • by Kitten Killer ( 766858 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:09PM (#15941241)
    Viruses don't have cells. They're basically just genetic material in a protein shell that go off to reprogram other cells. It would be impossible to "infect" another virus.

    There are ways other viruses can co-infect a cell and piggy-back onto another virus's replication cycle for it's own use, or even disrupt the other virus's replication because of it. Problem is HIV is a retrovirus, which also means it doesn't actively replicate all the time and can integrate into your own genes. That's why an infected person can survive for years with a very low HIV count and relatively symptom free until the viruses essential reactivates.
  • by LordSnooty ( 853791 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:12PM (#15941251)
    No, because the very definition of yeast is that it's a fungus. Food, however, is not defined to be a virus.
  • by bcattwoo ( 737354 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:19PM (#15941278)
    Should all products which use yeast include the label "Contains fungus"?

    No, just "yeast" would suffice (and be more precise).

  • Re:Mmmm..... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kitten Killer ( 766858 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:33PM (#15941321)
    Let's stop giving that drug a bad name. It has its uses, even though it had a terrible past.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide [wikipedia.org]
    "The FDA approved thalidomide in 1998, under a restricted access system, for the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum associated with leprosy (Hansen's disease). It also was found to be effective for multiple myeloma, and is now standard first line therapy for this disease..."
  • by Slur ( 61510 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:54PM (#15941389) Homepage Journal
    [ vegan police bulletin ] [veganica.com]

    Just to remind everyone, our ever-increasing orgy of animal slaughter wastes land through feed production, pollutes air and water, and brings much untold suffering to our fellow beings, who themselves are given no political voice. Only when the barbaric practice of factory farming is finally eradicated may we ever call ourselves compassionate as a society.

    If you as an individual can reduce your dependency even a little on the products of animal exploitation and slavery, please do. Your every meal will become a testament to life and love, and you will be helping your health, your environment, your animal friends, and your sense of humor [bizarro.com].

    Meanwhile, be aware of the many threats to health directly caused by the breeding and use of animals.

    Oprah: Now see, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me just ask you this right now Howard. How do you know the cows are ground up and fed back to the other cows?
    Howard Lyman: Oh, I've seen it. These are U.S.D.A. statistics, they're not something we're making up.
    Oprah: Now doesn't that concern you all a little bit, right here, hearing that?
    Audience: Yeah!
    Oprah: It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!
    Audience: (Claps loudly and shouts) yeah! ...

    Howard: Ask yourself the question. Today we could do exactly what the English did and cease feeding cows to cows. Why in the world are we not doing that? Why are we skating around this and continuing to do it when everybody sitting here knows that, that would be the safest thing to do, why is it, why is it? Because we have the greedy that are getting the ear of government instead of the needy and that's exactly why we're doing it.
    Audience: (applause)
    Oprah: We have a lot of questions about this Mad Cow Disease that we'd like to try to get resolved, because we don't want to just alarm you all, but I have to tell you, I'm thinking about the cattle being fed to the cattle and that's pretty upsetting to me...

    [ kill no more ] [veganica.com]
  • Re:Mutation? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:04PM (#15941418)
    Bacteriophages are VERY specialized. They can't penetrate into animal (or plant) cells because they are too large for it, and they can't use their injection system because animal cell walls are dense as bacterial cell walls.

    Actually, bacteriophages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phage) are the smallest syringes in nature, and they actually have proteins that store the energy needed for injection of genetic material through the cellular wall!

    Phage therapy is a very real alternative to antibiotics. In fact it is already used with much success: my cousin was treated with phage therapy after a chemical burn complicated by kidney infection (strong antibiotics would have destroyed his kidneys).
  • Re:Grammar Nazi (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ruff_ilb ( 769396 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @06:50PM (#15942101) Homepage
    First of all, I hope to GOD you're being sarcastic.

    If you're not, however, I'd like to point out that the GPP is, indeed, correct.

    From Dictionary.com

    tr.v. effected, effecting, effects

          1. To bring into existence.
          2. To produce as a result.
          3. To bring about. See Usage Note at affect1.

    (e.g. "The Senator was afraid that the new policy would effect higher oil prices.")

    Also, effect is often seen as a noun, meaning (among other things) a result. For example: "The Senator was afraid that the new policy would have detrimental effects on the oil industry."

    On the other hand:

    tr.v. affected, affecting, affects

          1. To have an influence on or effect a change in: Inflation affects the buying power of the dollar.
          2. To act on the emotions of; touch or move.
          3. To attack or infect, as a disease: Rheumatic fever can affect the heart.

    (e.g. "The Senator was afraid that the new policy would adversely affect the oil prices, dragging them higher.")

    Affect is rarely used as a noun, although it is much more commonly seen as a verb. Affect as a verb: "The man had a strange brand of body language that lent him an odd affect."

    If you don't believe me:

    Usage note from dictionary.com:

    "Usage Note: Affect and effect have no senses in common. As a verb affect is most commonly used in the sense of "to influence" (how smoking affects health). Effect means "to bring about or execute": layoffs designed to effect savings. Thus the sentence These measures may affect savings could imply that the measures may reduce savings that have already been realized, whereas These measures may effect savings implies that the measures will cause new savings to come about."

    Usage note from wikipedia.com:

    "Do not confuse affect with effect. The former is used to convey the influence over existing ideas, emotions and entities; the latter indicates the manifestation of new or original ideas or entities. For example, "...new governing coalitions during these realigning periods have EFFECTED major changes in governmental institutions" indicates that major changes were made as a result of new governing coalitions, while "...new governing coalitions during these realigning periods have AFFECTED major changes in governmental institutions" indicates that before new governing coalitions, major changes were in place, and that the new governing coalitions had some influence over these existing changes."

    Usage note from Write101.com:

    "The easiest way to distinguish the two is to remember that affect is a verb (well, nearly always a verb) and effect is a noun ... well, nearly always! [...]
    When affect is pronounced [uh FEKT] and accented on the final syllable, it's a verb meaning "to have an influence on."
    eg Nothing they did, could affect my decision to go to the beach.
    Occasionally, very occasionally, the word is used as a noun (it means a feeling or emotion, as distinguished from thought or action, or a strong feeling having active consequences) and the accent is on the first syllable [AFF ekt]. This is a term that is reserved for psychiatry and psychology:
    eg In hysteria, the affect is sometimes entirely dissociated, sometimes transferred to another than the original idea.
    Effect is most usually a noun and it means the result of some action or the power to produce a result. The noun is pronounced [uh FEKT] :
    eg The effect of the bushfire was clearly visible.
    eg The soothing music had an immediate effect on the wild beast.
    This can also be a verb and it means to bring into existence, to produce a result (pronounced [ee FEKT]}"

    Hopefully, that should convince you.
  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Sunday August 20, 2006 @12:48AM (#15943002) Journal
    ..that cherry picked US canned tuna for it's studies to show low mercury levels, so I'm a little worried about this.

    Uh, right. So since there's been more than one case of Police corruption, I better be worried whenever they arrest someone.

    The sheer number of known carcinogens in the American diet worries me. Aspertame, Sodium Nitrate, Potasium Bromate; the list goes on and on.

    Aspartame and Potassium bromate haven't been conclusively shown to be carcinogens. In particular the evidence for aspartame is quite dubious. Meaning that even if these substances are carcinogens, the risk is very, very, low. The laws of statistics dictate that: The lower the risk the harder it is to detect.

    Sodium nitrate (and nitrite) are out of the FDA's juristdiction since they were grandfathered in in 1958 when the FDA took over the food-additive approval business from the Dept of Agriculture. The EU has stricter regulations on it, but nevertheless permits it because the cancer risks of it widely outweigh the food poisoning risks it prevents.

    The argument is always either a) you're not getting enough to harm you

    That's because that happens to be the case. (More on that later)

    or b) it's all naturally occuring anyway.

    That's ridiculous. Nobody makes that argument. Most of the most carcinogenic substances around are naturally occuring in one way or another.

    Neither idea takes into account that a) if you eat a lot of prepared foods (like most poor Americans) you get way more than most studies allow

    Blatantly false. Most (all, in the FDA context) carcinogenity studies involve amounts of the substance which are far beyond what any human would normally recieve. To take an example, The Economist did the math [economist.com] over Sudan-1 recall of Worcestershire sauce last year, arriving at the tidy figure of a human having to consume 800 liters of the stuff per day for 2 years to reproduce the effects on the mice in the study (in which none of the mice didn't actually develop cancer). Nevertheless the recall happened, and Sudan I is indeed banned.

    b) is it really a good idea to add more of a naturally occuring carcinogen to a diet?

    Of course not. Which is why carcinogens are not permitted in food except for in very few cases. The substances you describe are simply not known for certain if they cause cancer. And if they do, yes, then the risk is truely negligable. Except sodium/potassium nitrate/nitrite, which is known to cause cancer for sure. However, the risk of cancer there far outweighs the health risks of food poisoning. Botulism kills quite a lot of people, and would certainly kill a lot more if nitrites weren't used.

    Wouldn't that raise your intake above natural limits?

    There's no such thing as "natural limits". You don't reach some point where your body says "that's it!" and goes off and develops cancer. Cancer is natural. It occurs in your body many times each day. Most of the time it gets taken care of by your immune system. You get cancer from the air. From sunlight. From the food you eat. From the natural background radiation. From cosmic radiation. From the natural biological processes in your body. Yes, your body produces huge amounts of carcinogens.

    All that exists is a risk you'll develop a cancer your body can't take care of. You can try to lower that risk, but if you're going to do so, you better have a sense of proportion with you. There are a large number of environmental factors which are hugely more important that any food additives. Americans first and foremost need to smoke less. They need to exersize more. (This is good for a lot of other things than just cancer prevention). They need to eat less food in general. They need to avoid polluted air. They need to wear proper sun protection. They need to stop eating fried foods. They need to stop drinking coffee.

    Try to buy

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