US: Whole-Genome Technology Solving More Outbreak Investigations
James Andrews writes: A common disclaimer supplied by public health officials while in the midst of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation goes something like this: “We’re doing our best to find the food source of the outbreak, but it’s important to remember that the majority of outbreaks are never traced back to a source.”
In other words, most outbreaks go unsolved because it’s just too difficult to pinpoint a food source given the constraints of technology and resources. While that may still be the case, more public health agencies are beginning to adopt technology that will help close the gap between the number of solved and unsolved outbreaks.
That technology is whole-genome sequencing (WGS), a method of identifying organisms such as bacteria and other pathogens by analyzing their entire DNA sequence. By comparison, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), the decades-old industry-standard epidemiological technology, looks at less than 1 percent of a pathogen’s genome.
Image credit: Col Ford and Natasha de Vere / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)