Infrastructure and expertise supported by Phenomics Australia and Therapeutic Innovation Australia (TIA) are used in fighting food poisoning toxins.
The challenge: Food poisoning is estimated to affect more than 4 million Australians every year – costing the economy $1.25 billion, and in some cases causing death.
There are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia, resulting in 31,920 hospitalizations, 86 deaths, and one million visits to doctors on average every year.
Bacillus cereus is a toxin-producing bacterium and a common cause of food poisoning. This bacterium is an important and neglected human pathogen and is the culprit when it comes to starchy foods like pasta and rice. It multiplies with the food’s nutrients and then releases toxins.
Bacillus cereus releases two types of toxins: one that spreads throughout the food itself and can cause vomiting, and one that’s released within the small intestine after the food is consumed to cause cramps and diarrhea. In some cases, these toxins can have deadly consequences.
The solution: Learning and understanding the toolbox bacteria use to infect us triggering dangerous food poisoning symptoms.
Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) supported by Phenomics Australia and and TIA’s Pipeline Accelerator scheme (2019-20), have discovered important details about the many tricks or tools bacteria use to infect us.
Professor Si Ming Man, the recipient of 2022 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, and colleagues study Bacillus cereus, which is responsible for producing toxins that help the bacteria to multiply and cause food poisoning symptoms.
ANU researchers have previously shown that several toxins are implicated in the disease, including the pore-forming toxins hemolysin BL (HBL) and non-hemolytic enterotoxin (NHE). They have shown how the toxins can infect cells, even when the body has fought off others. If one of the tools is lost or neutralized by the immune system, the bacteria have a backup that still allows them to infect and cause disease.
HBL is used to kill cells in the body and establish an infection. The NHE toxin attacks all types of cells in the body by anchoring itself and punching holes in the cell membrane, according to the study published in the journals Nature Microbiology and Nature Communications. NHE is an activator of the NLRP3 inflammasome. Inflammasomes are important for host defense against pathogens. However, individual components of NHE or all combinations of two of the three components did not trigger activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome.
The future: Created proteins that can neutralise the activity of the toxins restricting the spread of the infection, and that can be used to complement existing antibiotic regimes.
Antibiotic treatment for food poisoning may become less effective in the future due to bacteria’s growing resistance to antibiotics. Developing new therapeutics against Bacillus cereus, such as using certain drugs that can neutralise the activity of the toxins restricting the spread of the infection, and that can be used to complement existing antibiotic regimes could prove incredibly important when it comes to successful treatment, making this research even more important. Also, and very importantly, similarities between these toxins and their mechanisms of action and others from different bacteria could prove incredibly important when it comes to successful treatment for other very lethal types of bacterial infections.