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SIUE professor granted patent for bacterial contamination prevention

EDWARDSVILLE – The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued a second patent within months to Ronald E. Worthington, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s School of Pharmacy.

The more recent patent, issued in March, represents the second of two related inventions aimed at preventing contamination by bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Entitled “Bacteriophage Derived Methods to Control Lactic Acid Bacterial Growth (U.S. Patent 8,679,821),” it, too, contains the use of natural antibiotics to control bacterial contamination but focuses on developing a host microbial population – an agent that destroys bacteria. This second patent includes claims for synthetic genes for the natural protein native nisin. For the first time, Worthington said, nisin as a native peptide was shown to have antimicrobial activity.

“The use of antibiotics to control bacterial contamination in industrial production operations is widespread,” said Worthington, “but it suffers from a major drawback of acquired immunity to antibiotics over time, and that reduces the effectiveness of the antibiotics. This invention can be applied to various industrial scenarios in which bacterial contamination is a problem.”

Commercial applications for both patents, he added, include use in the ethanol biofuel industry and beverage alcohol production, where lactic acid bacteria contamination can damage yields and profits.

Worthington received the first U.S. Patent in October 2013; its emphasis was also specific to inventing synthetic genes that can be used to inhibit damaging bacteria. The first patent’s objective was to address the inappropriate use of antibiotics in industrial processes. The School of Pharmacy associate professor employed a synthetic biology approach that can be used in various fermentation applications to prevent lactic acid bacterial contamination.

“The bacteria that can become resistant to antibiotic drugs are in many cases the same bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract and serve a probiotic, healthy function,” Worthington said. “That poses a health risk, just like antibiotic resistance in any other setting. The inventions inherent in both of these patents focus on attacking this problem. In essence, we engineered artificial genes to make proteins that are not resistant to current pharmaceutical drugs.”

Worthington joined the SIUE School of Pharmacy in 2005. He earned both bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. His research interests include pharmacogenomics – the study of how variations in the human genome affect the response to medications – and bioinformatics, the collection, classification, storage and analysis of biochemical and biological information using computers.

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