Vertebrate odorant binding proteins (OBP) as novel natural antimicrobials for the packaging of food products



This technology promotes the use of novel natural antimicrobials, the vertebrate odorant binding proteins, for the packaging of food products.

Technology Description

Vertebrate ‘odorant binding proteins’ (OBPs) are secretory polypeptides dissolved at high levels (submillimolar) in the mucus layering the epithelia of the respiratory tract of vertebrates. Here, they behave as protein scavengers for the removal of endogenous and/or xenobiotic organic bioactive compounds, belonging to different chemical classes, whose activities might affect tissue homeostasis. Vertebrate OBPs have the potential to play a role as antimicrobial agents by scavenging molecules, such as quorum sensing molecules (QSM), synthesized by microorganisms. QSMs play key roles in their proliferation and/or pathogenicity of bacteria and fungi, driving coordinated behaviours (as an example biofilm formation). The antimicrobial activity of OBPs, that  has been positively tested for several bacterial and yeast strains, indicates their potential for applications as an alternative, or adjuvants, to conventional antibiotics and antimycotics. These might include the elaboration of novel types of packages for food products. Since the two OBP forms tested are from bovine and porcine species, their use as antimicrobials in the packaging of meat from these animals could be of relevant interest. Nevertheless, the two OBP forms tested differ in their antimicrobial properties. Hence, the combined use of the two proteins might represent an effective tool for the inactivation of a broad spectrum of different microorganisms.  

Main advantages

OBPs are biological products, with an antimicrobial activity that do not induce antibiotic resistance. Recombinant proteins can be produced at high yields in E. coli. Researchers have shown that OBP forms tagged with histidines at the amino-terminal exhibit enhanced antimicrobial activities. Further, OBPs can be applied either in solution or coupled to a solid matrix (agarose). Moreover, the capacity of binding molecules derived from lipid peroxidation, suggest that water solutions of vertebrate OBP, sprayed/or layered on the surface of food products, could also play, especially in the case of meat and fish, a protective role against the biological damages caused by the oxygen dissolved in the environmental air. In conclusion, as explained in the technology description section, OBPs can be applied simultaneously against bacteria and fungi.

Stage of development

At present the stage of development of the application of vertebrate OBP as antimicrobial, and in particular as antifungal, is TRL3. Ligand binding tests to OBPs have been realized with several bacterial and fungal QSM and with the bacterial toxin Pyocyanin. The positivity of all the ligand binding tests suggests that vertebrate OBPs might scavenge QSM and toxins from the environment, thus reducing the capacity of several bacteria and fungi of organizing coordinate behaviours (as quorum sensing) responsible for their pathogenicity. Moreover, researchers have positively tested the antimicrobial activity of some OBP forms, by time kill assay (TKA), against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans and other microorganisms.

Challenge and needs

The protection from microbiological contamination is a relevant problem for the food industry. The microbial contamination, indeed, can cause both the loss of the palatability of the food products and the development of infections, that in some cases can even be fatal. Besides, the global food trade is growing tremendously. Outbreaks in foodborne diseases have massively reformed the food industry by leading to increased government regulations on food safety and its quality. Foodborne illnesses arise mainly due to food contamination. On these bases, the safety of food products represents an essential requirement of the consumers. However, foodborne illnesses are be mostly caused by pathogenic microorganisms. Hence, OBPs based technology, thanks to the properties of these molecules, could be used in the industrial production of food packaging in order to tackle this issue and to reduce microbial contamination.

Intellectual property

The idea of using vertebrate OBPs as antimicrobial agents has been already patented:

• Italian Patent application NR. IT102015000038896 “Antibacterial and antimycotic agents and uses thereof”

Potential markets and targets

A potential market for this technology could be the industry of food transformation, and the producers of food packaging matrixes. Hence, OBPs based technology could supply a good share of the antimicrobial packaging market. This market is projected to reach USD 10.006 billion by 2021, at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 5.54% from 2016 to 2021.

Potential partners

Potential partners of this project could be SME producing food packaging matrixes that could be interested to improve the quality of their products, by introducing an innovative treatment aimed to increase the safety of food products. 

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