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New “Virtual Laboratory” Connects Researchers, Industry to Microbial Models

By Jim Core
February 5, 2002

A new “virtual laboratory” web site established today by the Agricultural Research Service will help facilitate research cooperation among scientists studying a key food safety issue--how pathogenic bacteria behave in food under varying environmental conditions.

The ARS Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pa., established the site to form partnerships that advance the use of predictive models of microorganisms in food. The web site is called the Center of Excellence in Microbial Modeling and Informatics (CEMMI).

Predictive microbiology is a growing field that estimates the behavior of microorganisms in response to environmental conditions, including food production and processing operations from the farm to table. For more than 15 years, ERRC has developed mathematical models to estimate the behavior of bacterial pathogens in food.

CEMMI is intended to network the expertise of ERRC and other laboratories to researchers, and to link industry with model designers for solutions to current food safety and quality problems.

According to CEMMI Coordinator Mark L. Tamplin, the center hopes to enhance the way predictive models are developed and then applied, while ensuring that users properly interpret results. Predictive microbiology can also benefit from defining existing gaps in research data and enhancing uniformity in experimental designs, he says.

Currently, one CEMMI project between the United Kingdom’s Institute for Food Research and ERRC will result in an online “data warehouse” called ComBase that will provide scientists with vast information to develop and validate models of microorganisms in food.

In another CEMMI project, ERRC and Decisionalysis Risk Consultants, Inc., of Ottawa, Ontario Canada, are working to develop an “expert system”--a type of computer program that guides predictive microbiology users in making balanced and reasonable decisions related to the behavior of pathogenic bacteria in food. The system uses analytical rules defined by experts in the field and incorporates ERRC’s Pathogen Modeling Program (PMP) software to help users solve food safety problems.

Interested collaborators are encouraged to contact CEMMI researchers to address their specific model needs. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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