Last year's listeria outbreak killed 30, sickened 146 and caused a miscarriage. The dangers caused by this bacteria are well known.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that listeria sickens an average of 1,600 people a year. Unlike most food-borne illnesses, listeria has the ability to multiply when refrigerated. This means that the longer a contaminated food is stored, the more dangerous it becomes.
A recent study, published by microbiology journal mBio and conducted at Cornell University, has identified a small antibiotic compound that inhibits listeria's defense mechanisms. The researchers screened 57,000 molecules -- both synthetic and natural -- in order to find this compound, named fluoro-phenyl-stryene-sulfonamind (FPSS).
FPSS is able to turn off the defenses that become alert when listeria is under stress, such as when it's combating stomach acids. More specifically, it is the switch that turns on listeria's defenses, known as Sigma B, that is disabled by the FPSS compound. This means that the bacteria can no longer protect itself when it feels it is in danger -- and may not be able to survive when navigating the digestive tract.
While these findings do not yet translate into a cure for listeria, their significance could be far-reaching. Researchers hope that this compound would be able to treat all pathogens with a similar defense system to listeria.