Researchers hope to develop rapid pathogen tests for poultry

Michigan State University researchers are working on a rapid cellphone test method to detect bacteria on poultry that cause human illnesses such as Salmonella and Campylobacter infections.

Led by Evangelyn Alocilja, a professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at MSU, the research team’s work is supported by a grant from the Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. of USDA Agriculture. The grant is $769,000.

Alocilja said if researchers can fix problems before products leave farms and processors, it would go a long way to improving food safety.

The researcher said previous studies have shown that poultry products are one of the most common sources of human infection due to bacterial contamination from agricultural production practices and processing equipment.

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the US economic burden of Salmonella and Campylobacter from all sources exceeded $6 billion in 2018.

According to Alocilja, it currently takes days or even weeks for culture tests to identify bacteria on poultry, and some modern rapid tests are extremely expensive and require training. The goal, she said, is to create rapid tests that are inexpensive and accessible, and easy enough to use for people in many different industries to implement.

Alocilja, whose work is also supported by MSU AgBioResearch, is a world-renowned expert in rapid biosensing diagnostics of infectious and antimicrobial-resistant diseases, having developed such tests for tuberculosis, dengue and COVID-19.

The project is a partnership between MSU and Tuskegee University. Tuskegee’s contributions will be led by Woubit Abebe, a collaborator on previous projects with Alocilja. She is a professor and director of the Tuskegee Center for Food Animal Health and Food Safety.

Other members of the MSU team include Jeannine Schweihofer, senior meat quality educator with MSU Extension; Tina Conklin, food processing specialist at MSU Product Center; Erica Rogers, environmental extension educator with MSU Extension; and Zac Williams, Poultry Outreach Specialist in the Department of Animal Science.

For this project, the team’s goals are to optimize Alocilja’s existing biosensor technologies for Salmonella and Campylobacter, develop a mobile phone-based application that captures and analyzes test data, and validate the process in several poultry farms and processing facilities.

Preliminary results showed that the biosensor was able to detect genomic DNA from foodborne pathogens in approximately one hour.

“We want to make sure food is safe while helping processors get their products into the hands of consumers quickly,” Alocilja said.

Alocilja plans to use her role as founder of the Global Alliance for Rapid Diagnostics to reach colleagues around the world with information about the research project.

The project is a partnership between MSU and Tuskegee University. Tuskegee’s contributions will be led by Woubit Abebe, a collaborator on previous projects with Alocilja. She is a professor and director of the Tuskegee Center for Food Animal Health and Food Safety. Alocilja said his engineering expertise combined with Abebe’s experience in veterinary medicine forms a unique partnership focused on human health and food safety.

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