U.S. scientists plan to map the genetic codes of 100,000 foodborne pathogens, including salmonella, listeria and E. coli, in a five-year effort to find faster resolutions to outbreaks that sicken consumers.
The sequences will be put in a public database and serve as the nation's road map for creating tests that identify harmful microorganisms and provide clues to their origins, the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement yesterday. The FDA is working with Agilent Technologies Inc. (A), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of California, Davis.
About 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick from food each year, and 3,000 die, according to the Atlanta- based CDC. The sequencing, dubbed the 100K Genome Project, will help researchers develop tests that identify the bacteria in a sample in days or hours compared with the week or so it takes now from diagnosis to genetic analysis, the FDA said.
"This is a very positive thing," said Mansour Samadpour, chief executive officer of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group, a Lake Forest Park, Washington-based provider of analytic services for meat and produce companies. "It's going to increase our understanding and be good for researchers."
Such a project is more possible now because the costs of mapping genomes have fallen, he said an interview. A genome is a full set of chromosomes.
The FDA said it's providing more than 500 completed whole- genome draft sequences for salmonella and other support. Initially, the project will focus on common food bacteria, such as E. coli and listeria, Shelly Burgess, an FDA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. As the project moves forward it will include viruses like norovirus and certain parasites such as cryptosporidium.
The project will provide information that may help improve rapid, non-culture tests medical professionals use when foodborne illness is suspected in a patient, as well as tests used by public health for tracking disease, John Besser, deputy chief of the CDC's Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch, said in an interview. The genomes will be available to commercial developers of the tests.
"This information will allow us to better understand disease, which in turn will allow us to better detect and control it," he said. "It's a win-win."
Santa Clara, California-based Agilent, a maker of electronic and bio-analytical measurement equipment, will provide scientific expertise, instrumentation and funding to support some of the research at the University of California. The U.S. Agriculture Department will also collaborate.