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Using DNA Data To Prevent Food-Borne Illness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is approaching food-borne illness in a different way -- by mapping the DNA of harmful bacteria.


Photo: Nathan Reading (Flickr)

Old methods of tracing harmful food-borne bacteria are slower and not as reliable as genome mapping.

Harmful food-borne bacteria can result in public health crises and massive recalls, like the listeria outbreak of 2011 that was traced to cantaloupe.

Controlling contaminated food is currently handled through DNA testing, which can be time-consuming and, at times, imprecise.

By using genome mapping, scientists can not only track outbreaks faster, but may be able to prevent infections before they start.

As genome testing becomes more widespread in the medical field, the technology also becomes cheaper and easier for scientists to use. Congress recently awarded the CDC a $30 million grant to expand advanced molecular detection in hopes that future outbreaks will be traced more quickly and even be prevented.

By linking DNA from those affected back to the food they consumed, genome mapping will allow scientists to more narrowly target the germs that cause food-poison outbreaks.

Previously, the CDC didn’t have the capacity to deal with the massive amounts of data generated by genome mapping. But technology advances have made storing and using the data more manageable.

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Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Chicago. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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