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Genome of Bad-Boy Campylobacter Sequenced

Technician and microbiologist prepare samples of Campylobacter for automated analysis of DNA sequence: Click here for full photo caption.
Technician Sharon Horn and microbiologist William Miller prepare samples of Campylobacter for automated analysis of DNA sequence. The monitor shows the sequence of a DNA sample run earlier.

Inquisitive ARS scientists have laid bare the genetic makeup of a little-known food-poisoning microbe called Campylobacter lari. This bad-guy bacterium is a close relative of the better known C. jejuni, the culprit in millions of cases of diarrhea in humans every year.

Microbiologist William G. Miller did the genome work in his laboratory at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, California. C. lari has attracted the California team’s attention because it is “what we consider an emerging pathogen,” Miller says. “It’s beginning to show up in other countries, so we need to keep it on our radar here.”

Knowing the genetic makeup of a foodborne pathogen such as C. lari is a strong first step toward understanding and controlling it. For example, the research opens the door to creating an accurate, affordable, gene-based test to quickly detect the pathogen in samples from people or foods. Such a test would help public health officials track a food-poisoning outbreak to its source.

What’s more, the genome is a treasure trove of information for scientists—like Miller—who want to compare and contrast it to other troublesome Campylobacter species, such as C. jejuni or C. coli. Similarities and differences among these genomes will provide important clues to how Campylobacter successfully infects us, which may lead to new tactics to outmaneuver the genes that orchestrate infection.

Miller began his genome journey by working forward from a rough draft prepared for ARS by the Institute for Genomic Research, Rockville, Maryland. Digging deeper, Miller filled in gaps and polished rough spots. He now plans to post this important first draft on the World Wide Web early in 2007. Insights that emerge from scientists’ scrutiny of this genome will further ensure the safety of the foods we eat.—By Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

William G. Miller is with the USDA-ARS Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, 800 Buchanan St., Albany, CA 94710; phone (510) 559-5992, fax (510) 559-6162.

"Genome of Bad-Boy Campylobacter Sequenced" was published in the October 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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