A team of researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia (UGA) has been awarded a three-year research grant worth $499,953 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant is one of 35 awarded nationally under NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) Food Safety program to improve food safety by helping control microbial and chemical contamination in various foods.
The Georgia Tech-UGA grant, “Efficient Capture and Preconcentration with Magnetic Microbeads for the Detection of Salmonella,” will explore the use of functionalized magnetic beads in a fluid channel for rapid detection of the pathogen in food and farm samples.
A key challenge in bioassays is the capture of a target pathogen from a complex food matrix, explains Dr. Peter Hesketh, principal investigator and professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Mechanical Engineering. The research team plans to use magnetic bead-based sampling for preconcentration of samples in order to improve detection sensitivity and avoid the need for enrichment during detection of Salmonella with a standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) or cell culture assay. This type of sampling preconcentration could potentially reduce processing time and analysis costs, resulting in a new method for rapid, high throughput detection of foodborne bacteria.
Dr. Hesketh will work alongside co-principal investigators Dr. Alexander Alexeev, Georgia Tech School of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Jie Xu, Georgia Tech Research Institute Food Processing Technology Division; and Dr. Marilyn Erickson and Dr. Walid Alali, University of Georgia Center for Food Safety.
Established under the 2008 Farm Bill, AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program and has five challenge areas — food safety, global food security, childhood obesity prevention, sustainable bioenergy, and climate adaptation.
The goal of AFRI’s Food Safety program is to protect consumers from microbial and chemical contaminants that may occur in the food chain, from production to consumption. This year, the program focused on developing effective mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance, understanding the physical and molecular mechanisms of food contamination, and improving the safety of fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. In addition, the program addressed critical and emerging food safety hazards to help prevent contamination and outbreaks.