Michigan State University has received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop strategies to reduce the amount of E. coli released by cattle, and in effect, decrease the number of foodborne illness in humans.

4d6edcbb-1b71-44c9-bdca-128520469cf3.jpgThe project, which is being led by Shannon Manning, molecular biologist and epidemiologist in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at MSU, will work to reduce cattle’s fecal “shedding” of shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

“These infections are a national concern, particularly during outbreaks when public health agencies are rapidly trying to identify the sources to prevent additional infections,” said Manning, whose work is funded in part by MSU AgBioResearch. “The data generated through this project will aid in the development of STEC control methods that can be used to improve food safety.”

STEC is a leading cause of foodborne and waterborne infections, and most outbreaks are caused by contact with fecal material from cattle and other ruminant animals. However, little is known about the factors that impact shedding from these animals.

“More than 70,000 people become ill due to shiga toxin-producing E. coli every year,” said Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, who visited MSU to make the announcement. “Understanding how the bacteria contaminate water and food supplies will help prevent thousands of illnesses and improve the safety of the nation’s food.”

Manning and her team of researchers will examine the host, genetic, microbial and environmental factors associated with STEC shedding, including:

  • Identifying bacterial genotypes and epidemiological factors important for shedding in multiple herds.
  • Comparing the composition, diversity and function of the microbial communities within the digestive tract and ruminal fluids of shedders and nonshedders.
  • Determining how STEC affects the bovine immune response to infection, identifying inhibitory compounds from “nonshedding” animals and developing strategies to decrease shedding. 

Multidisciplinary studies of this scope are required to better understand shedding of E. coli from cattle with the goal to enhance detection methods and control strategies. The research team expects to develop new ideas for direct-fed antimicrobials, vaccines, therapies and other control strategies that can reduce the frequency and level of STEC shedding. It is anticipated that this will lead to a reduction in food contamination, transmission to humans and STEC-related illnesses.

The grant was awarded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. AFRI supports research that promotes and enhances the scientific discipline of food safety. The overall aim is to protect consumers from microbial, chemical and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from food production to its consumption. The long-term outcome for this program is to reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths by improving the safety of the food supply, which will result in reduced impacts on public health and on the national economy.