ARS Scientist Wins Award for Microbial
Detection Techniques By
BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 12Pina 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
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
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.