SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Agilent Technologies Inc. is collaborating with the University of California, Davis focusing on developing a new process that can reduce the time required to identify food-borne pathogens from several days to only a few hours. Both partners will develop MassCode PCR technology, which integrates mass-tagged PCR primers for amplification and Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometery for the rapid identification of Salmonella serovar subtypes. as well as other food-borne pathogens.

This technology combines the sensitivity and specificity advantages of PCR, with the partial automation of LC/MS, and the sensitivity of detection of the mass spectrometer. The mass tags are small organic molecules coupled to the PCR primers, which provide two unique identifiers per target – like a dual barcode per target. These only appear in the MS analysis if the target was specifically and successfully amplified. By having two confirming signals per target, the likelihood of false positives is significantly decreased.

“The techniques currently used to identify specific types of Salmonella were developed in the previous century,” said Dr. Hailu Kinde, professor at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System. “They require a number of complex laboratory procedures, which are often laborious and can take up to a week to complete. In this era when food can be distributed across the globe in less than a day, it is critical that we have better tools to quickly identify the source of contamination before it spreads into the food supply. This exciting new project is a giant step toward reducing the time it takes to get test results and will make our food safer.”

Proponents claim the technology could revolutionize food safety by reducing the time it takes to identify the source of food-borne outbreaks from several days to only a few hours. Achieving rapid results enables more effective containment of outbreaks. On a global level, the technology will provide expanded testing to target specific bacteria and remove implicated food items intended for human consumption.

“Integrating PCR techniques and genomics with mass tagging for the detection and characterization of disease-causing bacteria will leverage Agilent’s state-of-the-art equipment and UC Davis’ scientific expertise and resources,” said Paul Zavitsanos, Agilent’s worldwide food program manager. “This process marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between UC Davis and Agilent Technologies in the arena of food safety, with our shared goal of advancing science and technology to benefit society.”