The bacteria behind typhoid, a major killer of children in the developing world, could be vulnerable to something as simple as tomato juice, new research suggests.

Typhoid is caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacterium, and is usually contracted from contaminated food or beverages. Its symptoms include nausea, fever and abdominal pain. Left untreated, the disease can prove fatal.

Over 9 million cases of typhoid are recorded worldwide each year.

Researchers at Cornell University wanted to investigate the purported antibacterial qualities of tomatoes and tomato juice.

“Our main goal in this study was to find out if tomato and tomato juice can kill enteric pathogens, including Salmonella Typhi, and if so, what qualities they have that make them work,” study lead author Jeongmin Song said in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology. She’s an associate professor of microbiology & immunology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

After conducting a variety of experiments in the laboratory, “our research shows that tomato and tomato juice can get rid of enteric bacteria like Salmonella” in the human digestive tract, Song said.

To find out how it does so, the Cornell team looked closer at the tomato genome. They honed in on what are known as antimicrobial peptides — protein particles that disrupt a bacterium’s protective membrane.

The tomato genome was found to produce at least two such peptides that appear to help destroy S. Typhi, as well as it’s more “hyper-virulent’ variants, the researchers said.

As reported last week, children threatened by typhoid could soon have a new weapon against the disease — a one-dose vaccine called Typbar TCV — that shielded children ages 9 months to 12 years over the course of a four-year study.

Those findings were reported by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in The Lancet medical journal.

Song’s team at Cornell hope their own findings might encourage uptake of tomato and tomato juice among kids vulnerable to typhoid.

Diets high in fruits and vegetables tend to have antibacterial properties as well, they said.

The study was published Jan. 30 in the journal Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and received no funding from producers of tomatoes or tomato juice.

More information

Find out more about typhoid at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: American Society for Microbiology, news release, Jan. 30, 2024