Microbiologist battles foodborne pathogen
by Tom Campbell
Arun Bhunia holds a culture cells in his lab. Bhunia exposes
the cells of Listeria bacteria in pathogenic testing. For his
research on food bacteria. Bhunia received the 2003 Agricultural
Research Award the Purdue College of Agriculture.
By Susan A. Steeves
Arun Bhunia's (pronounced Ah-rhun Boone-ya) early interest in animal
diseases led him naturally to research, which has expanded into developing
tiny sensors designed to detect dangerous bacteria, a realm of science
he never fathomed when growing up on a farm in India.
For the past 12 years, Bhunia, Purdue University associate professor
of food science, has delved into the workings of the deadliest of foodborne
pathogens, Listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria are responsible for
approximately 2,500 cases of disease annually in the United States,
with a fatality rate of 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
His research, which also may enable him someday to develop a vaccine
or other prevention for foodborne illness, has earned him the 2003 Agricultural
Research Award from the Purdue College of Agriculture.
The award is given annually to a Purdue College of Agriculture scientist
in the school who has completed a doctoral degree within the past 15
years. The recipient is chosen on the basis of research excellence and
contributions made to agriculture, natural resources and the quality
of life for Indiana citizens.
The honoree receives $1,000, which is funded by the Charles Gutherie
Patterson Memorial Endowment and the Matthew Morgan Hamilton Fund. In
addition, $5,000 is awarded to support the recipient's research.
Although Listeria is relatively rare, the fact that it
kills so many of its victims and can grow almost anywhere, including
in the refrigerator, makes fast, accurate detection of the pathogen
of vital importance. Bhunia, who received his doctorate in 1989, has
spent nearly his entire career studying Listeria. He is now applying
his microbiology expertise to collaborations aimed at developing biochip
sensors for finding and identifying virulent Listeria and other pathogens.
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