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Stopping Salmonella in Space

TEMPE, AZ (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The Food Safety Modernization Act just passed the Senate and is one step closer to President Obama's desk. It gives the FDA new powers to recall tainted foods, increase inspections and demand accountability for bad food. Each year, 48 million people get sick from tainted food. Three thousand people die from it. In fact, salmonella is the leading cause of food-borne illness worldwide. Now, scientists are going to unprecedented lengths to try to find a way to clean up our food.

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When people started getting sick from salmonella-tainted eggs several months ago, it made Lisa Eshelman think twice.

“I wasn’t sure which way to go with it, should I just toss them?" Eshelman told Ivanhoe.

After the big scare over contaminated eggs and peanut butter she tries to be extra careful.

“Oh I definitely don’t want to endanger the family, rather be safe than sorry as far as that goes,” Eshelman said.

Salmonella is the leading cause of bacterial food borne illness in the U.S., and the leading cause of death from food borne illness, but we still don’t know how to stop it. Arizona State University microbiologist, Cheryl Nickerson, Ph.D., is sending the bacteria out of this world. When two shuttle missions carried salmonella specimens into space, researchers made a surprising discovery; salmonella grown during spaceflight was three to seven times stronger than when grown on earth.

“Spaceflight uniquely increased the virulence of salmonella," Dr. Nickerson said. "It made it a better pathogen, it was better able to cause disease at a lower infectious dose, and so it was a better pathogen in flight.”

Researchers say understanding the genetic switches that change the disease-causing potential of salmonella in space could be the key to finding a way to stop it.

“If you know what’s causing a bacteria to be more virulent or less virulent, that gives you important mechanistic insight that you can use here on earth to develop a better vaccine or a better therapeutic to treat it,” Dr. Nickerson said.

Science from space that could one day make our food here on earth safer. There’s really no way to ‘see’ if food is contaminated with salmonella, but the symptoms include cramping, chills, diarrhea, fever, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Cheryl A. Nickerson, Ph.D.
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

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