UCC-Teagasc Strategic Alliance

Research Focus - Peptide Protectants

18 Dec 2017
Graph illustrating the revenue of global preservatives market

Food processors are facing an extraordinary dilemma as they try to address consumer demands for healthy, minimally-processed foods, while, at the same time being required to meet ever-increasing microbial safety standards. The options available to food processors wishing to employ natural food preservatives for safety applications or the prevention of food spoilage are limited. This is despite the fact that chemical preservatives have become increasingly unpopular with consumers. However UCC, Teagasc and TCD researchers have developed innovative solutions to try address these issues.


Furthermore, processing changes in response to the consumers’ desire for minimally processed foods or foods with reduced salt or calorie levels can lead to microbial safety/spoilage issues. This poses a challenge to the central need to enhance safety and remains a key market driver for new food antimicrobials.

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), such as novel bacteriocins and defensins, offer viable solutions to the development of natural food bio-preservatives to replace the current market antimicrobial agents  by providing better activity against food spoilage and pathogenic bacteria.

This project, funded under the FIRM (Food Institutional Research Measure) call from the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine, explores the use of bacteriocins and defensins to control pathogens including Listeria, E. coli and salmonella and food spoilage organisms including aerobic spore forming bacteria and spoilage bacteria and yeasts and molds associated baked goods.

Defensins are cysteine-rich antimicrobial peptides of the innate immune system involved in constitutive and adaptive immunities. This project is characterising  the antifungal activity of a linear human β-defensin-3 (HBD-3) cloned into Saccharomyces pastorianus and test this peptide as a potential food preservative to increase the shelf-life of baked goods.

Currently a barrier to commercialisation of antimicrobial peptides is the inability to produce high activity powders of antimicrobial peptides using readily available inexpensive substrates that give consistently high activity. This project is developing solutions for this challenge, based on strategies for the production of high quality sprayed dried bioactive powders using inexpensive food grade substrates employing a combination of upstream (fermentation) and downstream (microfiltration, ultrafiltration and nanofiltration with different types of membranes) processes.

This project is supported by a diverse team of researchers, led by Dr Paul Cotter and coordinated by Dr Mary Rea (Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark).

Other research partners include: 

  • Prof Colin Hill:  School of Microbiology University College Cork

  • Dr. Des Field:  School of Microbiology University College Cork

  • Prof Elke Arendt: School of Nutritional and Food Science University College Cork

  • Prof Ursula Bond: Department of Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin

Supporting researchers include :

  • Dr. Beatriz Gomez Sala (Teagasc),
  • Dr. James Tharappel (TCD)
  • Dr.  Jaonne Kraszewska (TCD);
  • Kevin Egan (UCC Microbiology)
  • Thibaut Thery (UCC Nutrition)
  • Michael Beckett (TCD)
  • Gwynn Halley (funded by the Teagasc Fellowship scheme).


College of Science, Engineering and Food Science

Coláiste na hEolaíochta, na hInnealtóireachta agus na hEolaíochta Bia

Block E, Level 3, Food Science Building, UCC, Cork