Tracking food poisoning outbreaks with genomic sequencing

Thursday, 11 June, 2015

Scientists took more than a decade and spent nearly $3 billion to unlock the entire human genome, but today the cost of genomic sequencing is less than $100, and the technology is now commonly used in public health, including the tracking of food poisoning outbreaks.

Dr John Besser from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attended the Communicable Disease Control conference held recently in Brisbane. ABC News reported on his use of genomics to track Listeria food poisoning outbreaks.

“Genomics is looking at all of the DNA in the bacteria or virus or fungus as a whole, instead of just looking at little pieces of it the way we’ve done in the past,” Dr Besser said.

“It’s looking at the entire DNA sequence, the blueprint of every one of these pathogens to get all the maximal amount of information from them.

“That allows us to link cases together [and] to contaminated foods or other exposures more precisely than ever before,” Dr Besser said.

The technology could be used in cases such as the outbreak of hepatitis A in Australia earlier this year, which has been linked to contaminated berries. Dr Besser said that genomics would enable public health officials to determine which cases were linked if the genomic sequences were the same.

If the cost of the technology continues to drop, it will eventually replace current methods and change the way governments and agencies deal with public health issues.

“We’re hopeful that a large proportion of cases of ... reportable diseases, those diseases that have significant public health impact will be sequenced so that public health officials can have a better idea of what’s going on in the population, where there’s potential contamination events, and hopefully in time to prevent more cases of disease and find out problems in our food supply that might not otherwise be discovered,” said Dr Besser.

Source: ABC News

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