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11 March, 2019 - 10:27 By Kate Sweeney

$1.2m Gates grant for bacteria research

Quadram Institute Bangladesh

Finding new ways of combatting the leading bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis is the target of a new project funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Scientists from the Quadram Institute on the Norwich Research Park and The Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) in Dhaka, led by the Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University (GW) will together develop the most comprehensive picture yet of the emergence and transmission of Campylobacter bacteria, in rural Bangladesh.

Hundreds of millions of people are affected by diarrheal disease each year, many of them children under five. Campylobacter is estimated to be responsible for one in four of these cases, making it a major burden on healthcare, especially in resource-poor settings. 

By understanding more about how the bacteria move around the environment, livestock and people, it’s hoped that ways can be found to reduce its impact. In the UK, Campylobacter is the leading cause of food poisoning, with most cases attributed to eating or handling contaminated poultry meat. But in low and middle income countries, transmission of Campylobacter to children is via more diverse channels. 

It may be picked up from contaminated water supplies or the environment, or from contact with waste from other people, poultry or the wild bird population.

Researchers will use genomic techniques to identify specific subtypes of Campylobacter and then use their genetic fingerprints to trace where they emerge and how they are transmitted.

“We are very excited to be working with CHRF and GW to be bringing together human, behavioural, livestock, wildlife and microbial metagenomic data to analyse Campylobacter’s transmission. This is truly a One Health approach,” said Professor John Wain from the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia.

Closer to home, Quadram scientists have developed a test that differentiates between buffalo and cow’s milk, and between the cheeses made from them. Applying the test to commercial products, they found that many restaurant meals and supermarket pizzas claiming to be buffalo mozzarella are mislabelled, and instead contain mozzarella made wholly or partially from cows’ milk.

Buffalo milk commands a premium price compared to cows’ milk and is used to make mozzarella cheese. Products labelled as “buffalo mozzarella” must be made solely with buffalo milk, and not with milk from any other species. Mozzarella can also be made with cows’ milk, but this is a much lower priced product. Buffalo mozzarella is thus a target for fraudsters, either through mislabelling of cow’s milk mozzarella, or by partial substitution of buffalo with cows’ milk during production.

Because of this potential for fraud, tests that can detect adulteration are needed. To stay ahead of the fraudsters, scientists are constantly working to improve the effectiveness of analytical techniques, as well as making them practical for uptake by the food industry.

Professor Kate Kemsley and her team at the Quadram Institute have developed a new method for testing the authenticity of buffalo mozzarella. The work was carried out as part of the FoodIntegrity project, funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development. 

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