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USDA Grants UC Davis $498K to Study Genetic Traits of Lactic Acid Bacteria

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The University of California, Davis announced on Tuesday that it has received a $498,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture to study the genetics of lactic acid bacteria often found on fruits and vegetables.

Scientists led by Maria Marco, an associate professor in the department of food science and technology, intend to identify the genetic basis of traits of these bacteria, which are instrumental for producing fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt, but also play a role in food spoilage. "Fermentation could be another nice name for spoilage," Marco told GenomeWeb, noting that the same bacteria that create foods are responsible for some agricultural product losses.

In addition to producing lactic acid, these bacteria also make acetic acid and other products, creating an acidic environment that can inhibit the growth of foodborne pathogens. "Pathogens like salmonella can't tolerate that low pH like these bacteria can," Marco said. She added that the bacteria could also be making peptides or other metabolites that are antagonistic to pathogens.

The researchers will look at more than 100 strains of bacteria isolated from plant sources. Marco said the study would use next-generation sequencing, as well as metabolomic, transcriptomic, and metatranscriptomic analyses.

Marco said these techniques could reveal the strain- or species-level variation between bacteria that would help to improve fermentation and reduce spoilage.