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Biotechs Discover Antimicrobial Peptide for Food Safety

Harvesting apples

(Lumix2004, Pixabay.

27 July 2022. Two biotechnology companies say they discovered a peptide molecule with antimicrobial properties for faster identification and containment of food contamination outbreaks. Aanika Biosciences in Brooklyn, New York and Berkeley Lights Inc. in Emeryville, California reported on the peptide, discovered as part of their collaboration begun in January 2022.

Aanika Biosciences is a four year-old business that creates microscopic unique identifiers with synthetic biology that act like bar codes, safely attached to individual batches of food crops and products for tracking through the supply chain. These identifiers, says Aanika Bio, are contained inside benign spores for adding to harvested crops including seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. The company says its microbial tags are colorless, odorless, and tasteless, stay attached to their original sources, and are added to products by mixing with liquids or spraying as a mist on dry goods. The identifiers also can be structured and customized with data such as point of origin, and retrieved digitally.

The partnership with Berkeley Lights seeks to expand the capabilities of Aanika Bio’s engineered spores to fighting food contamination as well as tracking batches of crops. Berkeley Lights is a biotechnology company that combines cell biology with digital analytics, providing microfluidic chip devices and software products, as well as analytics services for biological product discovery and development. The company says its combination of digital and biological processes makes it possible to accelerate discoveries, even down to detailed granular levels, such as individual cells.

In January, Berkeley Lights began work with Aanika Bio on screening for peptides with antimicrobial properties. Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which when linked together into longer chains, become proteins. In this case, Berkeley Lights began screening peptides for characteristics making them toxic to bacteria associated with food-borne illnesses. Aanika Bio says these antimicrobial peptides can be attached to their engineered spore identifiers to help protect against contamination in the food supply chain.

Eligible for royalties on products

Berkeley Lights and Aanika Bio say they identified an antimicrobial peptide, or AMP, ahead of schedule. “The identification of the new AMP,” says  Aanika Bio co-founder and CEO Vishaal Bhuyan in a Berkeley Lights statement, “now enables us to move faster than we thought was possible to unlock the opportunities to have greater economic, environmental, and human health impact as we to help improve and protect our global food system.”

Few financial details of the partnership between the companies were disclosed, but under the agreement Berkeley Lights is eligible for royalties from Aanika Bio once products with the AMP are developed and marketed.

Aanika Biosciences announced separately the start of an insurance subsidiary to cover companies growing, shipping, and processing food through global supply chains. Aanika Re, as the subsidiary is called, seeks to mitigate risks for companies linked to emerging traceability requirements in the industry, and is funded initially with $400 million from Adit Ventures in New York.

Bhuyan notes in an Aanika Bio statement released through BusinessWire that “traceability is at the heart of three main catalysts: 1) climate changes, which could lead to a significant rise in food safety issues; 2) FDA rules on traceability which are coming into effect within 24 months; and 3) ESG compliance for public companies.” ESG refers to environmental, social, and governance standards for evaluating corporate behavior.

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