A partnership between a taxonomy expert at Lincoln University in the US and two US senior food safety researchers has led to the development of a new device that could help control disease outbreaks.
The technology can quickly identify harmful strains of bacteria in food and has just become available in New Zealand.
It is called a BEAM device and was developed at Purdue University in Indiana, with an initial focus on the US market. It has been offered free of charge to Lincoln University Associate Professor Stephen On, who recently received a Catalyst grant of $80,000 from the Royal Society Te Apārangi to use the scanner for New Zealand-focused research that will complement studies already being undertaken in the US.
The BEAM technology can better identify disease outbreaks by providing a specific fingerprint of bacteria cultured on a standard agar media plate, which enables scientists to pinpoint strains of interest more quickly, with a focus on pathogens.
“If there’s an outbreak of E. coli or salmonella, for example, you may have dozens of samples to examine,” said Dr On. “The technology provides the major advantage of identifying the pathogen of concern by rapidly screening it from microorganisms naturally present in food or clinical samples. Because it’s non-invasive, you can take your isolate of interest and further characterise it with sub-typing methodologies to better identify an outbreak. No comparable technology is available elsewhere – it’s a game-changer.”