Microbiologist battles foodborne pathogen
He has refined this method so that the assay can identify virulent Listeria
in one hour. Bhunia is using the assay to better understand how Listeria
kills cells and also to aid a collaborative effort to develop a detection
system that can be used in a farm field, a processing plant or a store.
Researchers also may develop sensors for identifying other contaminants.
Bhunia now has a line of cells that could be placed on a biochip. When
a dangerous form of Listeria is introduced, it will bind to the healthy
cells on the chip. If this happens, the sensor will give a signal that
the virulent pathogen is present.
Having a system that not only detects the bacteria but also tells whether
it is pathogenic and does it quickly with a small food sample is imperative
for a biochip to be meaningful in the field, he says.
Bhunia is taking his research even further than just detecting Listeria.
He wants to understand how the bacteria make people sick.
"This is basic medical research, but it's giving us a lot of applied
information that complements our detection strategy because it is directly
related to how the bacteria interact with the cells we want to put on
the biochip," Bhunia says.
Eventually he hopes to try a genetic method of preventing
Listeria from binding to the cells in the intestine so that the infection
can't occur in humans.
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