Comparative Analysis of the Antimicrobial Activities of Plant Defensin-Like and Ultrashort Peptides against Food-Spoiling Bacteria

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2016 Jun 30;82(14):4288-4298. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00558-16. Print 2016 Jul 15.


Antimicrobial peptides offer potential as novel therapeutics to combat food spoilage and poisoning caused by pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria. Our previous studies identified the peptide human beta-defensin 3 (HBD3) as a potent antimicrobial agent against a wide range of beer-spoiling bacteria. Thus, HBD3 is an excellent candidate for development as an additive to prevent food and beverage spoilage. To expand the repertoire of peptides with antimicrobial activity against bacteria associated with food spoilage and/or food poisoning, we carried out an in silico discovery pipeline to identify peptides with structure and activity similar to those of HBD3, focusing on peptides of plant origin. Using a standardized assay, we compared the antimicrobial activities of nine defensin-like plant peptides to the activity of HBD3. Only two of the peptides, fabatin-2 and Cp-thionin-2, displayed antimicrobial activity; however, the peptides differed from HBD3 in being sensitive to salt and were thermostable. We also compared the activities of several ultrashort peptides to that of HBD3. One of the peptides, the synthetic tetrapeptide O3TR, displayed biphasic antimicrobial activity but had a narrower host range than HBD3. Finally, to determine if the peptides might act in concert to improve antimicrobial activity, we compared the activities of the peptides in pairwise combinations. The plant defensin-like peptides fabatin-2 and Cp-thionin-2 displayed a synergistic effect with HBD3, while O3TR was antagonistic. Thus, some plant defensin-like peptides are effective antimicrobials and may act in concert with HBD3 to control bacteria associated with food spoilage and food poisoning.

Importance: Food spoilage and food poisoning caused by bacteria can have major health and economic implications for human society. With the rise in resistance to conventional antibiotics, there is a need to identify new antimicrobials to combat these outbreaks in our food supply. Here we screened plant peptide databases to identify peptides that share structural similarity with the human defensin peptide HBD3, which has known antimicrobial activity against food-spoiling bacteria. We show that two of the plant peptides display antimicrobial activity against bacteria associated with food spoilage. When combined with HBD3, the peptides are highly effective. We also analyzed the activity of an easily made ultrashort synthetic peptide, O3TR. We show that this small peptide also displays antimicrobial activity against food-spoiling bacteria but is not as effective as HBD3 or the plant peptides. The plant peptides identified are good candidates for development as natural additives to prevent food spoilage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Computational Biology
  • Defensins / genetics
  • Defensins / isolation & purification
  • Defensins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Discovery
  • Drug Synergism
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Oligopeptides / genetics
  • Oligopeptides / isolation & purification
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacology*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Plant Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Plants / chemistry*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Defensins
  • Oligopeptides
  • Plant Proteins