Bio-Rad joins Mars and IBM-led food safety consortium

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: IBM
Picture: IBM

Related tags Food supply chain Food Bacteria

Bio-Rad Laboratories has joined a consortium set up by IBM Research and Mars to categorize microorganisms and what influences their activity in a normal factory environment.

The Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain was created last year to combine genomics with informatics to observe microbial communities in food and detect hazards in the supply chain to diminish the risk of contamination.

By sequencing the DNA and RNA of food samples and environments, the consortium is establishing what it called the 'gold standard' for food and helping health officials understand what triggers contamination and the spread of disease.

We spoke to Mars when the consortium was created last year​.

Bio-Rad brings expertise in chromogenic and molecular tests for food pathogens and quality indicators.

Combining genomics with informatics

Scientists are investigating the genetic fingerprints of organisms such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses to gain a better understanding of how they grow in different environments and in raw materials.

Jeff Welser, VP and lab director, IBM Research – Almaden, said it is using bioinformatics algorithms to identify the active genes and metabolic processes in food ingredients.

“Instead of looking for a target microorganism, we study the entire community of microorganisms and their environmental conditions by analyzing the microbiome of a food ingredient. Its evolution over time can be an indicator of contamination.

“We have started the effort by sequencing ingredients that go into pet food, studying corn meal, meats and other ingredients that go into kibble and other forms for animal consumption.

“We started with pet food production as it is one of the most complex processes in our industry and allows us to establish research protocols we can extend to additional food sources.”

Bio-Rad: 'We expect to make great progress'

Welser said it began speaking to Bio-Rad in early 2015.

“We expect to make great progress in the project with the addition of the company’s researchers and state-of-the-art methodologies to the effort.

“We are in discussions with additional partners now and hope to make further announcements later this year. We invite other interested parties to reach out to us as well.”

Norman Schwartz, Bio-Rad president and CEO, said it is looking forward to gaining insights and developing products that will protect the food supply.

"We believe the combination of advanced genomics along with informatics will provide us with a greater understanding of microbiomes within the food supply chain and help advance the science behind food safety."

Harold Schmitz, chief science officer for Mars said the consortium has the potential to revolutionize food safety and help identify and address new threats on a much bigger scale than possible before.

“Bio-Rad will bring a new dimension to the consortium effort with their suite of advanced testing techniques and equipment. This type of uncommon collaboration will drive even greater capacity, insight, and capability in food safety science and help us achieve critical breakthroughs."​ 

Mars also recently joined the Tata Trusts​ in a joint-venture to advance agricultural development, address malnutrition and improve food safety in India.

The firm also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Union Commission (AUC) last month to share food safety resources and expertise to control aflatoxins in food crops.  

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