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Sequence That Bug

After a cheese product was found to be causing illness in consumers, the US Food and Drug Administration matched the Listeria strain in the product to a strain found in one of the processing facilities using genome sequencing, the agency writes on its Consumer Updates page.

"This was the first time we used whole genome sequencing to match the environmental and food samples with the CDC's human biological samples and it helped support the agency in taking regulatory action," says Eric Brown, director of the microbiology division at FDA. "We were able to suspend food production at a facility to minimize an outbreak."

The agency also notes that it is helping other public health agencies sequence pathogens from food-related outbreaks, contaminated products, and environmental sources and archive them in the GenomeTrakr Network database. Currently, there are genomes from more than 5,000 isolates housed in the database, which FDA says will enable scientists to find the sources of food contamination and disease outbreaks.

"This is huge. As more laboratories contribute to the database it's going to be an extraordinary new day in the field of public health and microbiology," Brown adds.