Controlling disease outbreaks

by Anonymous Author

A ‘game-changing’ piece of technology for quickly identifying harmful strains of bacteria in food has just become available in New Zealand, thanks to a partnership between a Lincoln University taxonomy expert and two senior food safety researchers from the United States.

The scanner, called a BEAM device, was developed at Purdue University in Indiana with an initial focus on the United States market.

It has been offered free of charge to Lincoln University Associate Professor Stephen On and is the only device of its kind outside the US.

Dr On recently received an $80,000 Catalyst grant from the Royal Society Te Aparangi to use the scanner for New Zealand-focussed research that will complement studies already being undertaken in the United States. The resulting data will be pooled for maximum global impact. The scanner is designed to better identify disease outbreaks by providing a ‘specific fingerprint’ of bacteria cultured on a standard agar media plate. This allows scientists to pinpoint strains of interest more quickly, with a particular focus on pathogens.

“If there’s an outbreak of E coli or Salmonella, for example, you may have dozens of samples to examine,” Dr On said.

“The technology provides the major advantage of identifying the pathogen of concern by rapidly screening it from microorganisms naturally present in food or clinical samples. No comparable technology is available elsewhere — it’s a game-changer.”