Microbes found on seaweed could provide an unexpected weapon in the fight against tooth decay, scientists have said.
They used an enzyme isolated from the marine bacterium Bacillus licheniformis which they were originally researching for cleaning ships' hulls.
Instead, the Newcastle University team will tell the Society for Applied Microbiology Summer Conference that it could have a range of medical applications, including teeth cleaning.
Although toothpastes are effective, they cannot clean places around the teeth where they can not reach in the hard-to-reach areas between teeth where the bacteria in plaque can erode enamel, causing cavities.
Dr Nicholas Jakubovics of Newcastle University's School of Dental Sciences believes better products offering more effective treatment can be made using the enzyme:
When threatened, bacteria shield themselves in a slimy protective barrier known as a biofilm.
It is made up of bacteria held together by a web of extracellular DNA which binds the bacteria to each other and to a solid surface - in this case in the plaque around the teeth and gums.
The biofilm protects the bacteria from attack by brushing, chemicals or even antibiotics.
But after studying Bacillus licheniformis, which is found on the surface of seaweed, Newcastle University scientists found that when the bacteria want to move on, they release an enzyme which breaks down the external DNA. That breaks up the biofilm and releases the bacteria from the web.
Professor Burgess, who led the research, said:
The team will now look to collaborate with industry to carry out more tests and product development.