Nisin is a polycyclic antibacterial peptide produced by the bacterium Lactococcus lactis that is used as a food preservative. It has 34 amino acid residues, including the uncommon amino acids lanthionine (Lan), methyllanthionine (MeLan), didehydroalanine (Dha), and didehydroaminobutyric acid (Dhb). These unusual amino acids are introduced by posttranslational modification of the precursor peptide. In these reactions a ribosomally synthesized 57-mer is converted to the final peptide. The unsaturated amino acids originate from serine and threonine, and the enzyme-catalysed addition of cysteine residues to the didehydro amino acids result in the multiple (5) thioether bridges.
Subtilin and epidermin are related to nisin. All are members of a class of molecules known as lantibiotics.
In the food industry, nisin is obtained from the culturing of L. lactis on natural substrates, such as milk or dextrose, and it is not chemically synthesized.
It was originally isolated in the late 1930s, and produced since the 1950s as Nisaplin from naturally occurring sources by Aplin and Barrett in laboratories in Beaminster in Dorset, and approved as an additive for food use in the USA in the late 1960s, although the Beaminster factory now is owned by DuPont.
Nisin is used in processed cheese, meats, beverages, etc. during production to extend shelf life by suppressing Gram-positive spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. In foods, it is common to use nisin at levels ranging from ~1-25 ppm, depending on the food type and regulatory approval. As a food additive, nisin has an E number of E234.
Due to its naturally selective spectrum of activity, it is also employed as a selective agent in microbiological media for the isolation of gram-negative bacteria, yeast, and moulds.
Nisin has also been used in food packaging applications and can serve as a preservative by controlled release onto the food surface from the polymer packaging.
In combination with miconazole it has been studied as a possible treatment for infections of Clostridium difficile.
Ongoing research seems to indicate that nisin may also have potential for slowing the growth of certain tumors.