Search impact stories
Video Content: 
August 2019

Exorbitant food-recall costs face reduction thanks to tiny proteins

At a glance
The team

Asish Ninan Chacko, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, India with professor Éric Biron, Faculty of Pharmacy, Université Laval

The challenge

Pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium perfringens, and Staphylococcus aureus threaten food safety and livestock health

The solution

Develop two stabilized peptides to use as preservatives that protect against these pathogenic infections

What's next

Continue collaboration and Asish to return to Canada for doctoral studies

“When companies need to recall food due to a listeria outbreak, it costs a lot of money,” says Éric Biron, a professor at Université Laval. “At the same time, the loss associated with animal deaths caused by clostridium in livestock farming is estimated to be around $2 billion per year.”

That’s a huge cost to swallow for farmers and companies around the world whose livelihoods depend on food safety and healthy animals.

Asish Ninan Chacko, a 22-year-old undergraduate student from India, will be part of the solution. Through a Mitacs Globalink research internship, Asish is spending his summer working in the laboratory of Professor Biron. Their research that could lead to the commercialization of two novel peptides — extremely small but very active proteins — which have potential to protect against foodborne illness and livestock deaths related to listeria, clostridium, and staphylococcus infections.

Listeria monocytogenes (commonly known as listeria) is a bacterium found on deli meats and even in grocery-store salad kits. In recent years, contamination of listeria in food has caused mass recalls and threatened human lives when unknowing consumers developed illness from eating contaminated food.

Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness, while Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) causes a deadly infection that kills nursing cows.

Professor Biron and his team at the Faculty of Pharmacy recently patented a peptide for use as a preservative to protect against listeria and clostridium contamination in the food industry. He’s also investigating another peptide that could have similar protective effects against S. aureus infections.

Through his research internship, Asish is helping to stabilize the structures of both peptides to make them more cost-effective to produce on a large scale.

Professor Biron explains Asish’s contribution to the work: “Not only is Asish’s theoretical and practical knowledge extremely high, but he also brings a different approach to problem-solving to our team,” he says.

For Asish, who just completed his fourth year of a combined undergraduate/master’s degree, the internship is an opportunity to advance his research career.

“Here in Canada, I’m getting to use state-of-the-art equipment that I’ve not used at home in India,” he says. Because of his experience with professor Biron this summer, Asish is considering returning to Canada for his doctoral studies.

The door may be open for him, as professor Biron is already impressed by the collaboration so far. Biron says, “Asish is a tremendous asset and has already accomplished a lot in the short time he’s been in my lab.”

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo; China Scholarship Council; Campus France; German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Government of the State of Guanajuato, EDUCAFIN, and Tecnológico de Monterrey; Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche scientifique, des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication de la Tunisie and Mission universitaire de Tunisie en Amérique du Nord; and Ukrainian-Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: