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*New worlds: Yes to veggies; no to bacteria*
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
08/03/2014
Eating fruits and vegetables are certainly good for you, but sometimes they can make you sick if bacterial biofilms stick to the produce and the packaging in which they are shipped.
 
Eating fruits and vegetables are certainly good for you, but sometimes they can make you sick if bacterial biofilms stick to the produce and the packaging in which they are shipped. Hebrew University graduate student Michael Brandwein has a Kaye Innovation Award for developing a novel system that prevents microbial contamination of food packaging. The invention, in which a novel packaging system disrupts bacterial activity, is seen as having huge commercial potential.

Brandwein, a recent immigrant to Israel from New York City, is a researcher under the supervision of Prof. Doron Steinberg from the biofilm research lab of HU’s dental faculty. He was one of two graduate students presented with a Kaye award during the 77th annual meeting of its board of governors meeting last month. Bacterial biofilms are an ever-increasing problem in the food industry, especially for fresh produce. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that food-borne diseases cause an estimated 48 million illnesses each year in the US alone, of which 45 percent are caused by bacteria.

Industrialized countries have seen increased demand for fresh produce as awareness of the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables has grown. But public health concerns about fresh produce are especially acute because many of these products are consumed fresh, without cooking. Countless microorganisms, including illness-causing bacteria, attach to food and packaging surfaces and form biofilms in a complex and multifaceted process.

It was recently discovered that bacteria actually talk to one another, in a process called quorum sensing. This cross-talk is one of the factors that regulate biofilm formation.

When certain molecules detect a sufficiently high cell density, they activate a cascade of genetic processes that leads to the bacteria’s adhesion. Controlling the production or integration of these molecules can prevent the bacteria from coming together to create a biofilm.

Along those lines, Brandwein incorporated at HU a novel molecule called TZD, into anti-biofilm food packaging. The molecule was shown to successfully interfere with biofilm formation by bacteria and fungi. It has also been tested successfully to prevent biofilms in recycled water systems.

Brandwein’s research has focused specifically on corrugated cardboard boxes, the worldwide medium for transporting the vast majority of fresh agricultural produce. The technology has now been successfully incorporated into industry-specific acrylic polymers, meant to coat the corrugated cardboard used in the fresh produce.

“We have shown that these ‘quorum quenching polymers’ dramatically reduce the biofilm load on corrugated cardboard, leading to a healthier and more efficient method of transporting today’s food,” said Brandwein.

“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.”

The researchers predict revenue potential in the many millions of dollars.

In addition to addressing health concerns, preventing food contamination has significant economic implications for increasing the shelf life of products.

Produce growers are also a potential source of income, since bacterial biofilms are also a major source of post-harvest crop loss worldwide, infecting a wide variety of plant tissues and thereby causing bacterial soft rot, rendering the fruit or vegetable unfit for consumption.

HU, through its technology transfer company Yissum holds patents on the process and has signed an agreement with B.G. Tech of Kibbutz Beit Guvrin for further development and commercialization.

The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University have been handed out annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage HU faculty, staff and students to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.

PLEASANT ODORS INCREASE FACIAL ATTRACTIVENESS Perfume may not only make you smell good but also make you look better.New research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia reveals that women’s faces are rated as more attractive in the presence of pleasant odors. In contrast, odor pleasantness had less effect on the evaluation of age. The findings suggest that the use of scented products such as perfumes may, to some extent, alter how people perceive one another.

“Odor pleasantness and facial attractiveness integrate into one joint emotional evaluation,” said lead author Dr. Janina Seubert, a cognitive neuroscientist who was a postdoctoral fellow at Monell at the time the research was conducted. “This may indicate a common site of neural processing in the brain.”

Perfumes and scented products have been used for centuries as a way to enhance overall personal appearance. Previous studies had shown perception of facial attractiveness could be influenced when using unpleasant vs. pleasant odors. However, it was not known whether odors influence the actual visual perception of facial features or alternatively, how faces are emotionally evaluated by the brain.

The current study design centered on the principle that judging attractiveness and age involve two distinct perceptual processing methods: attractiveness is regarded as an emotional process while judgments of age are believed to be cognitive or rationally- based.

In the study, published in PLoS ONE, 18 young adults – two thirds of them women – were asked to rate the attractiveness and age of eight female faces, presented as photographs.

The images varied in terms of natural aging features.

While evaluating the images, one of five odors was simultaneously released. These were a blend of fish oil (unpleasant) and rose oil (pleasant) that ranged from predominantly fish oil to predominantly rose oil. The subjects were asked to rate the age of the face in the photograph, the attractiveness of the face and the pleasantness of the odor.

Across the range of odors, odor pleasantness directly influenced ratings of facial attractiveness.

This suggests that olfactory and visual cues independently influence judgments of facial attractiveness. With regard to the cognitive task of age evaluation, visual age cues (more wrinkles and blemishes) were linked to older age perception.

However, odor pleasantness had a mixed effect. Visual age cues strongly influenced age perception during pleasant odor stimulation, making older faces look older and younger faces look younger. This effect was weakened in the presence of unpleasant odors, so that younger and older faces were perceived to be more similar in age.
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