MSU gets grant to study E. coli-related foodborne illness

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – A $2.5 million research grant has been awarded to Michigan State University to study reducing “shedding,” or the release of E. coli from the digestive tract, of shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) from cattle. Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), made the announcement.

Led by Dr. Shannon Manning, the project will study shedding from cattle and develop strategies to reduce the shedding, with the intent of decreasing the number of illnesses caused by STEC.

“More than 70,000 people become ill due to shiga toxin-producing E. coli every year,” Beachy said. “Understanding how the bacteria contaminate water and food supplies will help prevent thousands of illnesses and improve the safety of the nation’s food.”

STEC is a leading cause of foodborne and waterborne infections. Most outbreaks are the result of contact with fecal materials from cattle and other ruminant animals, however, there s little known about shedding from these animals.

Manning and her research team will examine the host, as well as genetic, microbial and environmental factors associated with STEC shedding, including bacterial genotypes and epidemiological factors important for shedding in multiple herds; the composition, diversity and function of the microbial communities within the digestive tract and ruminal fluids of carriers and non-carriers; the bovine immune response to infection; and inhibitory compounds from ‘non-shedding’ animals.

Multidisciplinary studies of this scope are needed to better understand E. coli shedding from cattle and enhance detection methods and control strategies. The research team hopes to develop new ideas for direct-fed anti-microbials, vaccines, therapies and other control strategies that can reduce the frequency and level of STEC shedding. They anticipate this will lead to reducing food contamination, transmission to humans and STEC-related illnesses.

NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) awarded the grant. AFRI relayed promoting scientific discipline in food safety is a high priority. AFRI’s food-safety funding goal is to protect consumers from microbial, chemical and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from food production to its consumption. Reducing food-borne illnesses and deaths through improvements to the safety of the food supply will result in improving public health and the national economy.

AFRI, NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program, was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

NIFA, through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, invests in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s lives.
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