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Pathogen Tracking

Whole-genome sequencing is being applied to protect consumers from foodborne illness, FDA Voice, an US Food and Drug Administration blog, says.

It notes that some 600 million people around the world become ill each year with a foodborne disease and that 420,000 of those people die. But, FDA's Steven Musser and Eric Stevens write that sequencing can aid both disease surveillance and tracking when an outbreak occurs. But, they add, it needs global coordination and sharing to be effective.

"We all understand that food is a global commodity, with complex shipping and distribution networks that can easily result in contaminated food being sold in more than one country," Musser and Stevens say.

The pair notes that FDA's GenomeTrakr could help in sharing data. It currently houses some 142,000 sequenced pathogen strains that are freely available. GenomeWeb recently reported that the size of the database is growing by about 5,000 genomes a month and can be used to build phylogenetic trees to see how different isolates are related to one another. Musser and Stevens add that the information can also be used to trace back how and where a pathogen entered the food supply.