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ARS Scientist Wins Award for Microbial Detection Techniques / February 12, 2003 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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ARS Scientist Wins Award for Microbial Detection Techniques

By Jim Core
February 12, 2003

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 12—Pina M. Fratamico, a microbiologist with the Agricultural Research Service at Wyndmoor, Pa., has won an ARS technology transfer award for developing fluorescent strains of a human pathogen to use as a control in microbial detection methods.

Fratamico, with the ARS Microbial Food Safety Research Unit in Wyndmoor, Pa., will be honored today during a 1 p.m. ceremony at the agency's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. She is being recognized for developing recombinant strains of a food-borne pathogenic bacterium, Escherichia coli O157:H7, that are used as controls in tests to detect the bacterium and monitor its survival in foods.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Because of the increasing public health significance of E. coli O157:H7, a great deal of effort has gone into developing methods to detect the organism and investigating its ability to survive in different food environments. Reliable and accurate laboratory procedures for isolating and detecting bacteria in food samples require a positive control that does not contaminate food samples or lead to false positive results.

Fratamico used a cloned jellyfish gene to create fluorescent strains of E. coli and Salmonella typhimurium. In studies, the scientists can then distinguish these illuminated strains from bacteria that contaminate food.

Fratamico also used the strains to study the survival of E. coli O157:H7 in apple cider and orange juice. Her control strains are widely used by regulatory agencies, commercial companies, and researchers. For example, scientists have used Fratamico's flourescent strains as a tool for modeling the behavior of Salmonella in raw and cooked poultry products.

“The bacteria constructed by Dr. Fratamico have found numerous useful applications,” said Edward B. Knipling, ARS acting administrator. “Use of the strains prevents false positive results and the exceedingly expensive recall of large quantities of food that in reality are safe for consumption.”

Among her many awards, Fratamico received ARS' “Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist of the Year Award” in 1996. She received that award for her contributions to understanding the mode of action for E. coli O157:H7 and development of earlier tests to isolate and detect the pathogen. That same year, she was one of 60 recipients of the “Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.” The award is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their careers. Candidates are nominated by agencies across the federal government.

A native of Italy, Fratamico came to the United States with her parents in the 1960s. She earned both a bachelor's degree in medical technology and her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Temple University in Philadelphia, where she received the “Most Outstanding Student in Medical Technology Award” in 1983. Fratamico has been with ARS since she began a post-doctoral fellowship with ERRC in 1990. She was hired for a full-time position in 1992.

She has served since 1994 on the editorial board of the Journal of Food Protection. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Society for Microbiology, the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Association for Food Protection.

She lives in Elkins Park, Pa., with her husband Claude and their three sons: Robert, 15, David, 13, and Daniel, 11.

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Last Modified: 2/11/2003