The 100K Pathogen Genome Project at the University of California, Davis, has sequenced the genomes of 10 infectious microorganisms, including strains of Salmonella and Listeria.
A genome is the complete collection of an organism's hereditary information.
Database of pathogen genomes
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are involved in the project which aims to create a database of 100,000 foodborne pathogen genomes to help speed the identification of bacteria responsible for illness outbreaks.
It is a five year partnership aiming to make the food supply safer for consumers by speeding the testing of raw ingredients and finished products.
"We are creating a free, online encyclopedia or reference database of genomes so that during a foodborne disease outbreak, scientists and public health professionals can quickly identify the responsible microorganism and track its source in the food supply using automated information-handling methods," said Professor Bart Weimer, director of the 100K Genome Project.
He estimated that the availability of this genomic information will cut in half the time necessary to diagnose and treat foodborne illnesses, and will enable scientists to make discoveries that can be used to develop new methods for controlling disease-causing microorganisms in the food chain.
The initial 10 genome sequences mark the first in a series that will be entered into a publicly available database at the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Institutes of Health.
Weimer, also co-director of BGI@UC Davis, the Sacramento facility where the sequencing is carried out, added the initial release validates the entire process of acquiring the bacterium, producing the genome sequence, and making automated public releases.
The project is dedicated to sequencing the genomes of 100,000 bacteria and viruses that cause serious foodborne illnesses in people around the world.
Weimer said that the 100K Genome Project is sequencing a second set of 1,500 microbial genomes, with an anticipated release later in 2013.
At the time of the initial announcement, it was stressed that identifying the pathogens is just one part of the process for controlling the foodborne illness as the food vehicle of any given outbreak and the origin still need to be identified.