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Scientists develop marine microbe oral care ingredient

By Simon Pitman , 10-Jul-2012
Last updated on 10-Jul-2012 at 11:37 GMT

A team of scientists from the University of Newcastle’s dental school are developing a new ingredient derived from marine microbes that is designed to provide enhanced bacterial protection for teeth and gums.

The team, has isolated an enzyme from a marine bacterium called Bacillus licheniformis that is found on the surface of seaweed and which was originally used for the purpose of cleaning the underneath of boats.

Last week Dr.Nicholas Jakubovics presented the dental school’s findings at the Society of Applied Microbiology Summer conference, in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it was explained that including the enzyme as an ingredient in toothpaste can lead to enhanced protection against cavities and gum disease.

Going beyond simply brushing the teeth

“Plaque on your teeth is made up of bacteria which join together to colonise an area in a bid to push out any potential competitors,” said Dr Jakubovics.

“Traditional toothpastes work by scrubbing off the plaque containing the bacteria – but that’s not always effective - which is why people who religiously clean their teeth can still develop cavities.”

The research team states that to date they have carried out the study in test tubes, demonstrating that the enzyme can cut through both plaque and bacteria.

Targeting the bacteria's protective biofilm

The study has concentrated on the slimy protective barrier that shields oral bacteria, known as a biofilm, and which forms an extracellular DNA that adheres the bacteria to each other and solid surfaces such as tooth enamel and gums.

This biofilm can be difficult for oral care product to penetrate, and can even resist thorough cleaning with toothpaste and mouthwash.

The research into this biofilm has discovered that it can be broken down with the release of an enzyme from the bacterium Bacillus licheniformis which allows it to break away from the external DNA that makes up the web structure.

Enzyme prevents plaque build up

“It’s an amazing phenomenon,” explained Newcastle University lead scientist Professor Grant Burgess. “The enzyme breaks up and removes the bacteria present in plaque and importantly, it can prevent the build up of plaque too.”
“When I initially began researching how to break down these layers of bacteria, I was interested in how we could keep the hulls of ships clear but we soon realised that the mechanism we had discovered had much wider uses. If we can contain it within a toothpaste we would be creating a product which could prevent tooth decay.

The next stage in the development of the enzyme-based ingredient will be to test it in a series of oral care products, including toothpaste, mouthwash and denture cleaning solutions.

The research team is looking to set up a collaboration with oral care manufacturers to take the research to the next level.

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