In a proof-of-concept study, researchers from North Carolina State University have pinpointed new compounds that may be effective in containing the virulence — or ability to produce disease — of Listeria, a well-known bacterium that can cause severe food poisoning and even death.
Listeria are bacteria most commonly found in soil. Humans come into contact with Listeria via contaminated meat or milk products and can contract listeriosis, which can lead to severe illness or death — particularly in very young, elderly and/or immunocompromised populations.
Denis Fourches, assistant professor of computational chemistry, postdoctoral researcher Melaine Kuenemann and Paul Orndorff, professor emeritus of microbiology, knew that inhibiting a particular enzyme of Listeria — known as glucose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase (GalU) — led to dramatic modifications of the bacterial cell surface. These chemical modifications in turn rendered the Listeria much less virulent — in other words, less able to cause illness.