Functional Genomics of Foodborne Pathogens

Dr. Teresa BergholzFoodborne disease is a considerable public health problem, causing an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. In addition to the negative impact on public health, there are substantial economic losses due to foodborne disease, both in terms of cost of healthcare as well as cost of lost product and revenue to food producers. Foodborne pathogens can be found at most points throughout the food chain, from the farm production environment to the consumer kitchen. Ensuring safe foods includes the development and implementation of methods to reduce and eliminate foodborne pathogens at each step of the food chain, with the ultimate goal of reducing the incidence of foodborne illness. One of the critical aspects of foodborne pathogen transmission through the food supply is the ability of these pathogens to survive in the diverse environmental conditions encountered in foods.

Work in my laboratory will focus on using a systems biology approach to solve current food safety problems related to pathogen survival and growth in the farm environment, in food processing environments, and on foods, even in the face of preventative measures. This includes understanding: i) how stresses encountered during transmission can effect survival and virulence of foodborne pathogens once ingested, and ii) if these stress resistance capabilities play a role in the prevalence of specific subtypes of foodborne pathogens in cases of human disease. Long-term research goals are to understand the molecular mechanisms of stress response in foodborne pathogens and the role these responses play in pathogenesis, as well as to understand how these stress response functions vary with genetic diversity within a pathogen population and may be related to subtype prevalence.