MSU professor receives grant to battle viral food pathogens

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Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at MSU, will use a nearly $300,000 grant to incorporate the latest next-generation genomic tools in efforts to reduce the number of food-borne outbreaks associated with fresh produce.

The grant was awarded through the United States Department of Agriculture Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and administered through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Rose is a professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Rose’s project will focus on improving understanding of the food-environment microbiome from the field to the store, supporting food safety monitoring practices and, ultimately, transforming how we test.

“We can use new technology to take a glimpse into the world of viruses,” Rose said. “And it is amazing how much we don’t know. This project is going to provide new knowledge on the microbial world and allow us to find out how viral pathogens get into our food systems.”

Rose will use the study of genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples to generate a virome (the genomes of all the viruses that inhabit a particular organism or environment) view of cantaloupe, tomato and lettuce, as well as changes in those fresh foods as they travel from the field to the store.

Rose said the overall project goal is to provide a comprehensive view of the virome of our food from the natural field environment through the built food delivery system.

By pulling fresh produce from large-scale production operations, postharvest processing, stores and small gardens, Rose will generate a molecular fingerprint for fresh produce. Viruses in irrigation water will be concentrated using ultrafiltration methods. The concentrated viral samples will be separated from bacterial and other cells.

“We anticipate that plant, human, animal and bacterial viruses will be found, and that much of the analysis will have to be undertaken independent of knowledge of viral genomes in databases,” Rose said.

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