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Unmasking the Genes of Food-Poisoning CampylobacterBy Marcia Wood
October 1, 2004
What's your favorite way to prepare chicken? Whether you grill, fry, roast or bake it, as long as you cook it thoroughly, you'll kill any Campylobacter jejuni food-poisoning bacteria that may be on or in it.
But raw chicken juice, or raw or undercooked chicken, could harbor this microbe and lead to campylobacteriosis food poisoning. In fact, Campylobacter is thought to be the leading cause of bacterial food poisoning worldwide.
To foil Campylobacter, Agricultural Research Service scientists in Albany, Calif., and their colleagues at The Institute for Genomic Research, Rockville, Md., have decoded the sequence, or structure, of all of the genes in a specially selected C. jejuni strain.
Investigations of these C. jejuni genes may lead to the discovery of faster, more reliable ways to detect the microbe in samples from food, animals, humans and water.
What's more, the gene-based research opens the door to simpler, less-expensive tactics for distinguishing look-alike species and strains of Campylobacter and its close relatives, so that culprit microbes in food poisoning outbreaks can be fingered more quickly.
Finally, the studies may lead to innovative, environmentally friendly techniques to circumvent the genes that make C. jejuni strains so successful in causing human gastrointestinal upset and, in some cases, paralysis or even death.
The research represents the first time that a C. jejuni strain from a farm animal--in this case, a market chicken--has been sequenced. That farm-animal origin is important, because chicken is the leading source of this bacterium in food. Earlier C. jejuni genome sequencing, done elsewhere, was based on a specimen from a gastroenteritis patient and was lacking key features, such as the ability to colonize chickens.
Read more about the research in the October issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.