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Listeria: Lethal or Benign?

CALS researchers are developing more effective ways to detect and prevent food-borne illness from the listeria pathogen, which causes brain infection, blood poisoning, abortion, and death for about 250 Americans and a number of farm animals each year. While it can be more lethal than Salmonella, listeria exists in benign species and strains as well.

To predict which strains of the bacterium will be harmful, Martin Wiedmann, PhD ’97, professor of food science, has found that it is necessary to test for the presence of several genes, rather than just one. His team has helped control previous Listeria outbreaks by tracing the origin of contamination, thanks in part to a web-based pathogen tracker database they developed. He also recently identified a unique strain of Listeria monocytogenes that was responsible for an outbreak among dairy cattle.