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USDA Awards Grant to Michigan State University Researchers to Study How E. Coli Causes Food-Borne Illness

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

EAST LANSING, Mich., March 14, 2011 – Roger Beachy, Director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), today announced a research grant award to Michigan State University to reduce “shedding,” or the release of E. coli from the digestive tract, of shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) from cattle. The project, led by Dr. Shannon Manning, will study shedding from cattle and develop strategies to reduce the shedding, with the intent of decreasing the number of illnesses caused by STEC.

“More than 70,000 people become ill due to shiga toxin-producing E. coli every year,” Beachy said. “Understanding how the bacteria contaminate water and food supplies will help prevent thousands of illnesses and improve the safety of the nation’s food.”

STEC is a leading cause of foodborne and waterborne infections. Most outbreaks are caused by contact with fecal materials from cattle and other ruminant animals, yet little is known about shedding from these animals. With the $2.5 million grant from NIFA, Manning and her team of researchers will examine the host as well as genetic, microbial and environmental factors associated with STEC shedding, including:

  • bacterial genotypes and epidemiological factors important for shedding in multiple herds;
  • the composition, diversity and function of the microbial communities within the digestive tract and ruminal fluids of carriers and non-carriers;
  • the bovine immune response to infection; and
  • inhibitory compounds from ‘non-shedding’ animals

           
Multidisciplinary studies of this scope are necessary to better understand shedding of E. coli from cattle and enhance detection methods and control strategies. The research team expects to develop new ideas for direct-fed anti-microbials, vaccines, therapies and other control strategies that can reduce the frequency and level of STEC shedding. It is anticipated that this will lead to a reduction in food contamination, transmission to humans and STEC-related illnesses.

The grant was awarded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Promoting scientific discipline in food safety is a high priority within AFRI. The overall goal of AFRI food safety funding is to protect consumers from microbial, chemical and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from food production to its consumption. A reduction in food-borne illnesses and deaths through improvements to the safety of the food supply will result in an overall improvement of public health and the national economy.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at www.nifa.usda.gov.

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