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DNA-barcoded microbial spores can trace origin of objects, agricultural products

Credit: CC0 Public Domain Every year, an estimated 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses, resulting in some 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This public health problem is compounded by billions in economic damage from product recalls, highlighting the need to rapidly and accurately determine the sources of foodborne illnesses.

With the increasing complexity of global supply chains for the myriad foods available to consumers, however, the task of tracing the exact origin of contaminated items can be difficult.

In a novel solution that can help determine the origin of agricultural products and other goods, Harvard Medical School scientists have developed a DNA-barcoded microbial system that can be used to label objects in an inexpensive, scalable and reliable manner.

Reporting in Science on June 4, the research team describes how synthetic microbial spores can be safely introduced onto objects and surfaces at a point of origin, such as a field or manufacturing plant , and be detected and identified months later.

The spores are derived from baker’s yeast and a common bacterial strain used in a wide variety of applications, such as probiotic dietary supplements, and designed to be incapable of growing […]

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