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Seaweed microbe could be next weapon in fight against tooth decay

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July 31, 2012

Researchers at the UK's Newcastle University have discovered an enzyme from a microbe on t...

Researchers at the UK's Newcastle University have discovered an enzyme from a microbe on the surface of seaweed is effective at fighting plaque-forming bacteria

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From an early age, parents and dentists alike will continually stress the importance of effective dental hygiene into the consciousness of a child but for me, the message didn't really hit home until I met Pogues front-man Shane MacGowan backstage at Leeds University in the mid-1980s. I've been a dedicated twice daily brusher ever since and have noted all manner of decay-fighting ingredients finding their way into my choice of toothpastes, including extracts from cocoa, the neem tree, aloe vera and eucalyptus. New research from the UK suggests using microbes to fight microbes, or more precisely an enzyme from bacteria found on the surface of seaweed. Lab tests have shown that the enzyme is effective in fighting plaque and the researchers believe that the discovery could lead to more effective oral hygiene products.

An enzyme isolated from Bacillus licheniformis was originally identified when a research group led by School of Marine Science and Technology's Professor Grant Burgess at Newcastle University was screening for compounds that could disperse microbes from the surfaces of ship hulls. Its plaque-fighting abilities were discovered while collaborating with a team from the University's School of Dental Sciences with Dr Nicholas Jakubovics at the helm.

A good example of strength in numbers, Jakubovics says that bacteria in dental plaque join forces to colonize areas to prevent potential competitors from gaining a foot-hold. Most of us will use a combination of toothpaste and vigorous brushing to counter this attack on our teeth, but even the most meticulous brusher might not catch all of these enamel-eroding enemies of healthy teeth and gums. A feeling of disappointment (and perhaps a touch of anguish) follows when an eagle-eyed dentist spots cavity work needing to be done.

When under threat, bacteria create a slimy protective biofilm barrier of extracellular DNA that joins them together while also sticking to a solid surface. This sticky matrix offers the microbes some protection from brushing, chemical washes or even antibiotics.

The researchers discovered that the enzyme could break down the external DNA, weakening and breaking up the biofilm layer so that the bacteria could no longer find a foot-hold and so get evicted. Initial experiments in the lab have shown promise in demonstrating that the enzyme has the ability to cut through plaque but more tests are scheduled to prove the discovery is both effective and safe.

The next step is to use the enzyme as an ingredient in a paste, mouthwash or denture cleaning product and the team is on the lookout for industry partners to help bring the enzyme to market, although it could be a few years before anything appears on the shelves of local pharmacies. The scientists say that the enzyme could also be useful for keeping certain medical implants clean.

The findings were presented at the Society for Applied Microbiology Summer conference at the beginning of July in Edinburgh.

Source: Newcastle University

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
2 Comments

It's about time we make progress in this area. I don't think we've made any progress in 60 years, with the exception of sealants for children. Otherwise the approach has been the same: brush and floss, visit the hygenist every 6 - 12 months then wait until decay occurs, drill it out and fill it with a metal amalgam. With all the advances in medicine I have often wondered why we haven't made better discoveries to help proactively protect our teeth.

Laura Ward
31st July, 2012 @ 12:42 pm PDT

im sure i remember hearing something about this 15 years or so ago. I hope this time round something come of it.

silverneedle
31st July, 2012 @ 01:26 pm PDT
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