NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Michigan State University has won a $2.5 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture to use genomics to study the release of E. coli into the environment from cattle and into the food supply, the USDA said today.
The research will seek to understand and potentially find ways to reduce the 'shedding' of shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC), which causes more than 70,000 illnesses in people each year.
"Understanding how the bacteria contaminate water and food supplies will help prevent thousands of illnesses and improve the safety of the nation's food," USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Roger Beachy said.
Most STEC-linked illnesses, a leading cause of food-borne and water-borne infections, are caused by contact with fecal materials from cattle and similar livestock animals, but little is known about how this shedding occurs, USDA said.
The MSU researchers plan to use the funds to study the genetic, microbial, and environmental factors associated with STEC shedding. These studies will include research into bacterial genotypes and epidemiological factors that are important to shedding in multiple herds; the composition, diversity, and function of microbial communities within the digestive tracts of E. coli carriers and non-carriers; the bovine immune response to infection; and inhibitory compounds from "non-shedding" animals.
Such interdisciplinary science should inform how to detect and control STEC shedding, USDA said.
The MSU scientists expect to use the data to develop new direct-fed antimicrobials, vaccines, therapies, and other control strategies that can reduce the frequency and level of STEC shedding, with the hope of reducing food contamination, transmission to people, and STEC-related illnesses.
The NIFA grant was awarded under USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, which seeks to support science to protect consumers from microbial, chemical, and physical hazards that may occur in any stage of the food chain.