A student researcher at Sweden’s Umea University has found that Listeria bacteria, when exposed to light, can increase the risk of bacterial infection.

The discovery of a new property in Listeria that activates protective mechanisms when food is exposed to light was uncovered in a dissertation entitled “Regulatory pathways and virulence inhibition in Listeria monocytogenes” written by a Umea University doctoral student. The student also wrote about the discovery of two new molecules that combat the pathogenicity of Listeria bacteria. The dissertation was based upon studying how the molecules can be used to prevent the presence of Listeria bacteria from causing foodborne illness. With this new knowledge, food safety experts can better work to prevent the spread of Listeria.

“Hopefully, this new knowledge on how light and these small molecules affect the bacterium can, in future, be used to prevent the spread of Listeria and help treat listeriosis,” says Christopher Andersson, the doctoral student behind the dissertation.

For researchers, this new insight into the development of Listeria is especially important not only for the general public, but specifically for individuals with weak immune systems and pregnant women. For these sub-groups, bacterial infection and spread to the brain and develop into listeriosis, which researchers say has a mortality rate of up to 30 percent. In pregnant women, listeriosis can also spread to the fetus, ultimately causing a miscarriage.

Andersson will be defending his dissertation and findings before a public panel of professors from Umea University’s molecular biology department this week.

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