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Genetics a useful tool for predicting Salmonella outbreaks

Dr. Lawrence Goodridge

I’m interested in developing approaches that are proactive so that we’re able to predict outbreaks before they even occur, and the only way to do that is to take a holistic approach.

Dr. Goodridge

Hearing the word Salmonella likely makes you think of raw chicken, not fruits and vegetables. However, this past summer Canada saw 515 confirmed cases of Salmonella linked to red onions, a number that a University of Guelph food microbiologist is now working to prevent.

Dr. Lawrence Goodridge works with a diverse team of experts on the Salmonella Syst-OMICS project, which uses genome sequencing to determine Salmonella sources during outbreaks and is applying the technique to successfully predict and prevent subsequent outbreaks.

Goodridge is more than qualified to act as a leader on this project. He is the Leung Family Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety in the Food Science Department and is passionate about understanding foodborne pathogens – disease-causing organisms that cause illness through food ingestion.

“The whole system is reactive,” Goodridge says, “we wait until people get sick. I’m very interested in developing approaches that predict outbreaks before they even occur and stop them. One of the ways to do that is to take a holistic approach to studying the pathogens.”

One Health – that is, the recognition of the interconnectedness of animal, human, and environmental health – is a perfect holistic approach for problems of foodborne disease. As Goodridge explains it, foodborne pathogens often come from animals used in food production and these animals spread diseases to humans and to the environment. In the latter case, fruit and vegetables become affected if they are growing in soil contaminated with animal feces. So, to gain a full understanding of how Salmonella is spreading in an outbreak, humans, animals, and the environment must all be considered.

The Salmonella Syst-OMICS project aims to do just that. The team uses genomic methods to study the genetic sequences of thousands of Salmonella isolates (disease strains) from animal, environmental, and human sources. This is done to identify biomarkers and mechanisms in isolates that indicate virulence, which is the potential for the strain to cause illness. They have completed multiple rounds of sequencing and are now able to predict, with good consistency, whether an isolate will cause severe illness in humans. They hope to use the same genomic data to determine the Salmonella source of an outbreak by comparing genomic sequences from the outbreak to other sequences associated with animals or with the environment. Being able to do this will be important for controlling and stopping an outbreak before people become sick.

Goodridge acknowledges that such predictive systems require coordinated efforts from many individuals. He sees One Health as a great way to connect across disciplines and develop more effective solutions to large-scale problems. He is happy to be at the University of Guelph – an institution known for its collaborative and interdisciplinary nature.

“I think collaboration is exciting,” says Goodridge, “Guelph is the perfect place for One Health.”

The Salmonella Syst-OMICS project is funded by Genome Canada, Ontario Genomics, Genome Quebec, Genome BC, and the University of Guelph.

Learn more about Dr. Goodridge and the Syst-OMICS project here: http://salmonella-systomics.ca/en/

By: Anna McMenemy

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