Bacterial DNA may be used to improve foods

By Peter Kent

Tom Hughes and Aaron Brown; Photo by Peter KentFinding ways to make food healthier, safer and less expensive is a priority around the world. Clemson research in this area can benefit both food producers and consumers.

Microbiologist Tom Hughes and his graduate students are exploring the DNA of lactobacillus debrueckii. This bacterium is widely used as starters in yogurt and cheese. By understanding its genetic characteristics, scientists can improve the commercial usefulness, such as fermentation rate, flavor and sweetness.

Experiments with cottage cheese showed that as the numbers of lactobacilli increased, the numbers of spoilage organisms decreased. The results indicate that this bacterium could help control spoilage in cottage cheese, potentially extending its shelf life.

Hughes’s research also may lead to health benefits. Unlocking the genetic code may uncover DNA fragments that can be used to make proteins that attack bacterial infections. These proteins, called bacteriocins, are potentially more effective than antibiotics. Disease-causing bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics but not to bacteriocins.

For information: Tom Hughes, 864-656-5433,