Food and Drug Administration scientists have found a benign bacterium that may block Salmonella from colonizing tomatoes.

When applied to Salmonella-contaminated plants in a field trial, the bacterium—Paenibacillus alvei, significantly reduced concentrations of the pathogen compared to untreated controls, according to a news release.

Eric Brown, and his colleague, Jie Zheng, began looking at innocuous bacteria that thrive in the tomato-growing environment as possible biological control agents.

They isolated about 10 different species that controlled Salmonella, although all but two were as pathogenic as Salmonella itself.

Two isolates stood out, with P. alvei being the stronger of the two.

The organism also has no known history of causing human diseases, either.

“While farmers and agricultural scientists have long used microbes to prevent plant diseases, we now have the opportunity to add a naturally-occurring microbe to a crop in the field with the goal of preventing human disease,” Zheng said in a release. “Our ambitions are now to extend this microbial approach to cantaloupe, leafy greens, and other crops that have lately been responsible for outbreaks of food-borne Salmonella and E. coli.”

Their research appears in an upcoming issue of the journal, "Applied and Environmental Microbiology.".