Researchers at Ontario, Canada’s University of Guelph have discovered that soy isoflavones and peptides may inhibit the growth of microbial pathogens that cause foodborne illness.

Soybean derivatives can be found in a variety of food products--baked goods, canned foods, cheeses, ice cream, oils, margarine and spreads. Isoflavones act as hormones and control much of the biological activity on the cellular level. Peptides are part of proteins, and can act as hormones, hormone producers or neurotransmitters.

The food industry currently uses synthetic additives to protect food from contamination, but the use of soy isoflavones and peptides might actually do a better job at reducing microbial contamination, based on recent news.

University of Guelph researchers used microfluidics and high-throughput screening to run millions of tests in a short period. They found that soy can be a more effective antimicrobial agent than the current roster of synthetic chemicals--the use of which some believe may cause long-term illness. The use of soy peptides and isoflavones could combat bacteria and reduce these concerns.

Researcher and professor Suresh Neethirajan says, “Heavy use of chemical antimicrobial agents has caused some strains of bacteria to become very resistant to them, rendering them ineffective for the most part. Soy peptides and isoflavones are biodegradable, environmentally friendly and nontoxic. The demand for new ways to combat microbes is huge, and our study suggests soy-based isoflavones and peptides could be part of the solution.”

Neethirajan and his research team found soy peptides and isoflavones limited growth of some bacteria, including Listeria and Pseudomonas pathogens.

“The really exciting thing about this study is that it shows promise in overcoming the issue of current antibiotics killing bacteria indiscriminately, whether they are pathogenic or beneficial. You need beneficial bacteria in your intestines to be able to properly process food,” Neethirajan says.

Next, researchers will be conducting large-scale tests. The end goal is to come up with a solution that is beneficial to food processors and soybean farmers.

The study, entitled "Investigation of the antimicrobial activity of soy peptides by developing a high throughput drug screening assay", will be published in the scientific journal Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports this summer, but it is currently available online.

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