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Past Winner
2006 Innovation Challenge Award

Elizabeth Gray

Thuricin 17 as a Novel Narrow-Spectrum Antibiotic and Food Preservative

McGill University

Elizabeth Gray
Elizabeth Gray

While working on her master's thesis at McGill University, microbiologist Elizabeth Gray discovered a new protein-like toxin that kills bacteria and promotes plant growth. The new bacteriocin, which she named Thuricin 17, kills or slows the growth of very specific strains of bacteria. Its behaviour suggested potential uses as an antibiotic and food preservative.

Her proposal for the development of Thuricin 17 for the health and food industry has now earned her a $5,000 runner-up prize in this year's NSERC Innovation Challenge competition. Each year, postgraduate students from across the country are challenged to present the best idea for applying the results of their thesis research.

"There is a need to discover novel antibiotics to replace non-effective drugs," she said. "Many bacteria species are now resistant to commonly used drugs such as penicillin, amoxicillin and even vancomycin. Bacteria have short life cycles and exchange antibiotic-resistant genes. As a result, they become resistant to antibiotics considerably faster than new drugs can be discovered," she added.

For medical purposes, bacterial resistance to Thuricin 17 has not developed, making it highly effective. It is also easily produced at low cost. For the food industry, it is a new natural alternative to less-desirable preservatives such as nitrates.

As the research continues into the use and safety of Thuricin 17, McGill's Office of Technology Transfer is pursuing patent protection. As well, DuPont Canada Inc. has entered into an option agreement to license the technology.

The discovery by his graduate student has "opened a new line of research in my laboratory," said Dr. Donald Smith, James McGill Professor, Chair, Plant Science Department.