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Bacteriocins are small, ribosomally-produced peptides with antimicrobial properties. They are typically described as having a very narrow specificity, often targeting similarly related bacterial species or strains. Some bacteriocins have a wide spectrum of activity, as we have observed in concurrence with the literature. These molecules have great potential for industrial applications.
The history of bacteriocins begins with the Belgian scientist André Gratia. In 1925, as an early result of a search for bacteria with antimicrobial properties, Gratia described the activity of colicin, the first known bacteriocin. This discovery happened concurrently with Alexander Fleming’s description of the antibiotic penicillin in 1928 and the independent observations of bacteriophage activity by Frederick Twort in 1915 and Félix d’Hérelle in 1917.
Bacteriocins did not receive the same level of attention as antibiotics, as a lack of understanding of their biology led to difficulties in their production and low consistency in controlling microbial growth. This led to the dominance of chemically synthesized broad-spectrum antibiotics for the rest of the 20th century up to the present. Similar issues were observed with bacteriophages, although they have found extensive medical use in the country of Georgia through the work of d’Hérélle and George Eliava, as well as in Russia and Poland The use of bacteriophages in the dairy industry has also been commercialized in the US and the Netherlands.
Currently, bacteriocin use is most often associated with the food industry. Many bacteriocins are produced by Gram-positive species, particularly lactic acid producing bacteria such as Lactoccocus sp. Nisin is the most widely used of these bacteriocins, acting as a food preservative, and has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status from the FDA and is approved as preservative (food additive) in the European Union (E234).
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
The emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has great negative implications for human health. The reduction of antibiotic use in medical and industrial applications should be a common goal to reduce the amount of antibiotics released into the environment. Bacteriocins offer a promising approach to solving this problem. Additionally, avoiding the use of antibiotics in industrial applications of biofermentors can reduce production costs and help focus metabolic output on production.