Livermore biomedical scientist Paula McCready will deliver that message today during a session of the American Society for Microbiology at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
"The tools we use to develop DNA signatures for the detection of bioterrorist agents could also be used to search out food-borne pathogens," McCready said. (DNA signatures are areas or regions of DNA unique to specific organisms).
"We believe people are going to look at the problem of food-borne pathogens differently because of the new tools that are becoming available."
Finding the DNA signatures for bacteria that cause food poisoning would allow laboratories to more rapidly identify their presence in food and in the environment.
Among the bacteria that could be identified, according to McCready, are Camphylobacter, a bacterium present in undercooked chicken, or different types of Salmonella, a bacterium that can be found in eggs, juice, fruit or vegetables.
Previously, diagnostic tests to identify and type these bacteria normally required many hours to days to complete because of the need to culture and prepare samples, as well as conduct analysis.
However, with the rapidly growing development of DNA signatures and new polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based DNA analysis systems, the tests can now be conducted in less than one hour.
"We can also tailor our tests to distinguish harmful forms of different organisms from the benign forms," McCready said.
Livermore researchers and other biomedical scientists have developed highly accurate DNA signatures for the bacteria that cause plague and anthrax, as well as for other organisms.