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EU scientists crack listeriosis code

A consortium of European research laboratories has completed the full sequencing of a bacterium involved in a potentially lethal form of food poisoning, which should help identification of the genes involved in disease-causing agents.

Working under a project co-financed by th...
A consortium of European research laboratories has completed the full sequencing of a bacterium involved in a potentially lethal form of food poisoning, which should help identification of the genes involved in disease-causing agents.

Working under a project co-financed by the European Union and the Pasteur Institute, a consortium of 10 European research laboratories has sequenced the genome of listeria monocytogenes, responsible for severe food contamination causing listeriosis - where 20 to 30 per cent of cases are fatal. In France a recent epidemic caused nine deaths.

The disease can lead to septicaemia, brain infections and miscarriage, and tends to affect vulnerable groups such as new-born babies, pregnant women, immuno-compromised people and the elderly.

Listeria is considered both a public health problem, and an economic problem for the agro-food business where foods - particularly cheese and meat products - regularly have to be withdrawn from the market due to contamination.

The availability of the sequencing of listeria monocytogenes will allow comparative analyses with other bacteria and should help identify the genes involved in pathogenicity.

The 10 laboratories involved in the sequencing are located in France, Germany and Spain, and were coordinated by Professor Pascale Cossart of the Pasteur Institute with funding from the EU's Biotechnology programme, part of the Fourth Framework programme (FP4).

A follow-up project has been launched to understand how listeria infects and survives in the environment and in infected patients.

The project, entitled Realis, has recently been launched under FP5's Quality of Life programme. Aimed at analysing the genome and studying the genes that enable listeria monocytogenes to survive and adapt, the project involves nine partners and is coordinated by Professor Jurgen Wehland of the GBF (Gesellschaft fur Biotechnologische Forschung mbH) in Braunschweig, Germany.

This will have an impact on risk management in agriculture, the food industry, and healthcare, by facilitating the development of rational approaches to curbing food-borne contamination and minimising the risks of infection.

Source: Research Directorate-General

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