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Two Projects to Speed Up E.Coli Detection

23 July 2013
Genome Alberta

CANADA - Two new projects will develop new tests to rapidly detect E. coli in beef packing plants, Genome Alberta announced this week.

Genome Alberta held a funding competition to develop ways to quickly detect pathogenic E. coli. Current detection technologies require a culturing period of the samples, which can take anywhere between 18 and 24 hours, says Gijs van Rooijen, Genome Alberta’s Chief Scientific Officer.

“The idea of this particular competition was to develop a detection technology that would be much quicker so that within a single shift, within eight hours, you would actually take a sample and get results back. So the all clear would be given much sooner,” says van Rooijen.

He adds that the devices will also be relatively simple so that people within the plant could test the samples.

Linda M. Pilarski and Lynn McMullen from the University of Alberta are leading one research group. They are developing novel microfluidics technology, which are miniature testing devices that will detect genes that show whether pathogenic bacteria are present.

Their methods will require a minimal investment in capital equipment and plant staff will have test results back within one hour using data analysis software. They also hope to eventually to extend the technology to test for E. coli on other foods, such as vegetables, says van Rooijen.

Pilarski and McMullen will also develop faster sampling methods. They plan to concentrate bacteria in meat fluids, and then increase their numbers within a contained system. The researchers will validate these sampling methods with meat samples contaminated with cold-stressed bacteria.

Researchers Michel G. Bergeron of Université Laval and of Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec and Burton W. Blais with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are leading a second project. Bergeron and Blais are adapting technology that’s currently used in human health research to detect both pathogenic and generic E. coli.

Bergeron and Blais’ research will allow plants to detect E. coli cells in 325 grams of ground or trim beef in less than eight hours. They’re focusing on STEC cells, which are Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and have been deemed a regulatory priority in the United States and Canada.

One criteria of the competition was that after 18 months the technology would be advanced enough that it could be implemented without much more effort, says van Rooijen.

“The regulatory agencies, so CFIA and Health Canada, (will have) an opportunity to look at the technology and the device, and assess whether that would be a detection technology that would fit within the regulatory environment,” he says.

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