Sugar additive — trehalose — may supercharge C. difficile

Amina Khan of the LA Times reports two bacterial strains that have plagued hospitals around the country may have been at least partly fueled by a sugar additive in our food products, scientists say.

Trehalose, a sugar that is added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before, a new study finds.

The results, described in the journal Nature, highlight the unintended consequences of introducing otherwise harmless additives to the food supply.

  1. difficile is a nasty bacterium — infection can result in severe diarrhea and death — and numbers among the most prevalent hospital-acquired infections in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionnearly half a million peoplewere sickened by the bug in 2011. Some 29,000 of those patients died within 30 days of being diagnosed with C. difficile, and about 15,000 of those deaths were directly linked to the infection.

The disease wasn’t always such a scourge of the sick and hospitalized, and scientists have long been trying to figure out why certain strains have become so successful in recent years. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics has long been thought to be responsible for the rise of many kinds of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

To probe the mystery, a team of scientists led out of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas examined two particularly successful lineages of C. difficile, RT027 and RT078, examining what kind of carbon-rich molecules they ate. Both types, they noticed, seemed very good at using low concentrations of the sugar trehalose as a sole carbon source.

The researchers analyzed the genomes of both RT027 and RT078. While both had RNA sequences that allowed each type to take advantage of trehalose in low doses, they did so in very different ways.

  1. difficile bacteria have genes that can break trehalose into glucose (a simpler, more useful sugar) and its derivatives. But a special protein called TreR blocks the microbes from metabolizing trehalose unless the concentration of trehalose in the environment is very high.

In RT027, the TreR protein is modified in a way that lowers the bar, allowing the bacteria to metabolize trehalose even in quite low concentrations.

RT078, however, is using a different mechanism to do the same thing, having picked up four genes that are used in taking up and metabolizing trehalose. (Just one of them, it turns out, was responsible for its powered-up ability to grow in small amounts of trehalose.)

Dietary trehalose enhances virulence of epidemic clostridium difficile

Nature, 03 January 2018, J. Collins, C. Robinson, H. Danhof, C. W. KnetschH. C. van LeeuwenT. D. LawleyJ. M. AuchtungR. A. Britton, doi:10.1038/nature25178

\Clostridium difficile disease has recently increased to become a dominant nosocomial pathogen in North America and Europe, although little is known about what has driven this emergence. Here we show that two epidemic ribotypes (RT027 and RT078) have acquired unique mechanisms to metabolize low concentrations of the disaccharide trehalose.

RT027 strains contain a single point mutation in the trehalose repressor that increases the sensitivity of this ribotype to trehalose by more than 500-fold. Furthermore, dietary trehalose increases the virulence of a RT027 strain in a mouse model of infection. RT078 strains acquired a cluster of four genes involved in trehalose metabolism, including a PTS permease that is both necessary and sufficient for growth on low concentrations of trehalose.

We propose that the implementation of trehalose as a food additive into the human diet, shortly before the emergence of these two epidemic lineages, helped select for their emergence and contributed to hypervirulence.


More fairytales: In reality it’s just sugar water

Food is 21st century snake oil.

This isn’t a new observation but one that food hucksters continue to enforce with ever more audacious claims – and all for a price.

sideshow-bobNever underestimate the ability of the food biz – big or small, organic or conventional, raw or paleo — to make a buck.

And universities, with all their pomposity, especially Haaarrrvvvard, can suck.

Retailers promote scientific nonsense by exploiting consumer fears. Hence G Organic, a version of Gatorade that will be made with sugar from organically farmed sugarcane and carry a label whose largest word is a sprawling “ORGANIC.”

James Hamblin of The Atlantic notes the market for products labeled “organic” has exploded in recent years, to $43.3 billion in the U.S. alone in 2015. Marketing to capitalize on that demand sometimes confuses consumers into thinking that organically-produced products are healthier for us, a hope that has not born out. As dietician Lisa Cimperman told NPR, “I think it’s a marketing ploy to apply this organic health halo to this product.”

Executives from PepsiCo have implied as much. According to PepsiCo executives in Ad Age, the approach is an attempt to reach the growing market of consumers who seek out the term. The company is responding to pressure from challengers like coconut water, “as consumers are focused more than ever on ingredients.”

A socially conscious cerebral cortex may be drawn to organically farmed sugar over inorganically farmed sugar, but a pancreas makes no such distinction. It releases insulin in both cases, spreading word throughout the body that this is a time of fantastic abundance. The insulin signals the body to save and pack these calories away in fat cells, for use when food is scarce. For most Americans, that scarcity never arrives. All that does is more food.

g-organicFor serious athletes doing prolonged exercise—the sort that drains their blood sugar, and depletes their sodium stores as they soak themselves in sweat—adding some sugar and sodium back into the mix does help to keep a person moving.  This is why Gatorade was useful to the University of Florida’s football players, who were succumbing to heat exhaustion after hours of summer practice, when the product came into existence in 1965.

Still, the sugar content in Gatorade Thirst Quencher today is much too high, and the sodium content much too low, to re-hydrate a truly dehydrated person. Properly balanced oral rehydration solutions do exist, but they don’t taste as good to most people as the much sweeter concoctions.

Most of Gatorade’s $3.3 billion in annual sales come from consumers in much less extreme circumstances, where it is simply empty calories. The product is positioned as an optimal approach to hydration—to quenching thirst. This is purportedly because of the “electrolytes” (meaning a bit of sodium and potassium), but for people who eat food, these additives are moot. A serving of Gatorade Thirst Quencher has about as much sodium as a slice of bread.

But Gatorade Organic (G Organic sounds too much like a sexual act) is only the latest.

Anahad O’Connor of The New York Times reports the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease — including many of today’s dietary recommendations — may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the new JAMA paper.

bobby_bittman_sctv_eugeneThe documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of sugar, fat and heart research. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.

The Harvard scientists and the sugar executives with whom they collaborated are no longer alive. One of the scientists who was paid by the sugar industry was D. Mark Hegsted, who went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, where in 1977 he helped draft the forerunner to the federal government’s dietary guidelines. Another scientist was Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.

In a statement responding to the JAMA report, the Sugar Association said that the 1967 review was published at a time when medical journals didn’t typically require researchers to disclose funding sources or potential financial conflicts of interest. The New England Journal of Medicine did not begin to require financial disclosures until 1984.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote an editorial accompanying the new paper that said the documents provided “compelling evidence” that the sugar industry initiated research “expressly to exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.”

“I think it’s appalling,” she said. “You just never see examples that are this blatant. The amount of money they were paid to do this is staggering.”

Actually, $50,000 is nothing.

hucksterDr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that academic conflict-of-interest rules have changed significantly since the 1960s, but the industry papers are a reminder of “why research should be supported by public funding rather than depending on industry funding.”


Full transparency is much better: why ding taxpayers for the cost of proving something.

And most nutritional research is bullshit anyway.

The JAMA paper relied on thousands of pages of correspondence and other documents that Cristin E. Kearns, a postdoctoral fellow at U.C.S.F., discovered in archives at Harvard, the University of Illinois and other libraries.

The documents show that in 1964, John Hickson, a top sugar industry executive, discussed a plan with others in the industry to shift public opinion “through our research and information and legislative programs.”

At the time, studies had begun pointing to a relationship between high-sugar diets and the country’s high rates of heart disease. At the same time, other scientists, including the prominent Minnesota physiologist Ancel Keys, were investigating a competing theory that it was saturated fat and dietary cholesterol that posed the biggest risk for heart disease.

Mr. Hickson proposed countering the alarming findings on sugar with industry-funded research. “Then we can publish the data and refute our detractors,” he wrote.

In 1965, Mr. Hickson enlisted the Harvard researchers to write a review that would debunk the anti-sugar studies. He paid them a total of $6,500 – the equivalent of $49,000 today. Mr. Hickson selected the papers for them to review and made it clear he wanted the result to favor sugar.

I’m proud to have taken industry money: and to tell them how fucking wrong they were, when it was the right, evidence-based conclusion.

Food porn parody: The Katering Show

Amy forwarded this, and it’s a well-earned skewer at the cooking show world.

celebrity.chefsIt’s been over a decade since my research lab made food safety fun of TV chefs, but maybe we should have been funnier. We were trying to be scientific.

Comedians Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney have brought their own recipe to the cooking show world, and if you’re among the thousands who have spent far too much of their weekend watching it, you’re probably still laughing.

The pair have created a six-part YouTube series entitled The Katering Show. In it, they have a laugh at food intolerances, food fads and social traditions like the Christmas meal, and the Internet is catching on to their brand of humour.

Billed as the journey of a food intolerant and an intolerable foodie, McLennan declares: “This show is all about me, and how I can cook delicious recipes that won’t make McCartney (who is gluten, fructose and lactose intolerant) shit her pants.”

And Tom Colicchio got hired as MSNBC’s food correspondent.

That’s funny. (NSFV)

Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This research reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely. During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria established by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel. On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

Watch found in bag of sugar?

I’m not sure who buys 20 kg of sugar “for coffee and things” but Nubarak Nubarak, 46, of Mississauga, Ontario (that’s in Canada, and 44 pounds of sugar) found a watch in a 20-kg bag of Redpath sugar he bought Jan. 26 in west-end Toronto.

He called Peel Regional Police to find out who he should turn to for help.

On the advice of police, he called Peel’s public health officials who referred him to their counterparts in Toronto, where he purchased the sugar.

Gerry Lawrence of Toronto Public health said Nubarak was referred to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which has contacted him.

Nice run around.

Nancy Gavin, manager of brand development at Redpath Sugar Ltd., said the company adheres to strict quality guidelines (do they ever say anything else?).

"We have metal detectors on the line that would have or should have gone off.”

Shigella, E. coli on sugar snaps in Sweden

Eurosurveillance today reports an outbreak of Shigella dysenteriae type 2 infections during May-June 2009 in Sweden, involving 47 suspected cases of whom 35 were laboratory-confirmed.

The epidemiological investigation based on interviews with the patients pointed at sugar snaps from Kenya as the source. Shigella was not detected in samples of sugar snaps. However, Escherichia coli was confirmed in three of four samples indicating contamination by faecal material.

During April to May 2009 outbreaks with Shigella connected to sugar snaps from Kenya were reported from Norway and Denmark. In the three countries trace back of the indicated sugar snaps revealed a complex system with several involved import companies and distributers. In Sweden one wholesale company was identified and connections were seen to the Danish trace back. These three outbreaks question whether the existing international certification and quality standards that are in place to prevent products from contamination by faecal pathogens are strict enough.

No, they’re not.

Organic baby formula goes for the sweetest, just like kids’ cereals

The New York Times reports today that parents may be buying Similac Organic baby formula because they believe that organic is healthier, but babies may prefer Similac Organic because it is significantly sweeter than other formulas and is the only major brand of organic formula that is sweetened with cane sugar, or sucrose, which is much sweeter than sugars used in other formulas.

Dr. Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an expert in risk factors for childhood obesity, said,

“I would be very concerned about this as a pediatrician. The issue is that sweet tastes tend to encourage consumption of excessive amounts."

Dr. Caballero was further cited as saying evidence shows that babies and children will always show a preference for the sweetest food available, and they will eat more of it than they would of less-sweet food, adding,

“This is how breakfast cereal manufacturers compete."

Organic formula, with sales of about $20 million annually, makes up only a sliver of the $2.5 billion formula market, according to A.C. Nielsen, the market research company. Similac Organic, analysts say, is largely responsible for the nearly tenfold growth in sales of organic formula from 2005 to 2007.

All infant formulas contain added sugars, which babies need to digest the proteins in cow’s milk or soy. Other organic formulas, like Earth’s Best and Parent’s Choice, use organic lactose as the added sugar. Organic lactose must be extracted from organic milk, the global supplies of which have been severely stretched in the last three years, driving up the price of the lactose.

Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said,

"The parents in my practice who would use organic formula are the same parents who would be worried about giving sweets to their babies. That organic formula would be sweeter might not be a health risk, but it certainly isn’t what the parents have in mind.”

Dr. Gary K. Beauchamp, director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit research institute, said,

“The entire enterprise of formula is the attempt is to make it as close as possible to human milk. Making sweeter formula so that babies like it more seems to me contrary to the ethos of organic food, as a doctor and as a grandfather.”