100K Genome Project To Help FDA Combat Foodborne Illness

Posted on July 12, 2012

A new initiative announced by the Food and Drug Administration could be the start of marked improvements in the way recalls are initiated and how consumers are kept safe from foodborne illness.

Today, the safety organization announced a partnership with Agilent Technologies and the University of California-Davis that aims to compile the various gene sequences of bacteria into one easily accessible place.  This database would be available to the public and would act as a repository for the genetic information of 100,000 different types of bacteria.  The name of the initiative is The 100k Genome Project.

The goals of this directive are threefold, as explained by the director of the Office of Regulatory Science, which is itself part of the the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.  First, easy access to this sort of database would allow researchers and scientists to create revolutionary tests that would potentially take just a matter of hours to determine what kind of bacterial strain is present in a contaminated food source.

Second, investigators could use the information from the database to better identify the source of a bacterial outbreak, which could in turn help ensure that corrective action is taken immediately and a similar danger doesn’t present itself ever again.  Using samples taken from an infected individual’s system, comparisons can be made between outbreaks to determine what food posed the contamination and thus put regulators into action right away.

Finally, because the database will be readily available to persons across the world, all sorts of different groups will be able to utilize it to come up with prevention strategies.  This open flow of information could also lead to a host of other benefits that might not have even been thought up yet.  Ease of access is thus one of the standout virtues of the database.

We do have to wait a some time before we can truly reap the benefits of this initiative.  It will be five years before the sequencing will be completed.  This process will take place at UC Davis, and once complete, the information will be placed in the public database of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a part of the National Institutes of Health.  The Centers for Disease Control and the Food Safety and Inspection Service have also pledged to help with the initiative.

Listeria, salmonella, and E. coli are sadly still prevalent across the country.  What’s worse, they don’t remain static, but continue to evolve.  With CDC estimates placing the number of infections incurred by Americans from food at 48 million per year, it’s clear that drastic action has become necessary to preserve public safety and improve recall efforts.  The FDA hopes that this effort can be that drastic action, helping researchers better study bacteria so that foodborne illness can be stopped before it starts.

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