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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Spring 98 > Article

Hamburger’s Helper
Dan P. Rahn

The August 1997 recall of 25 million pounds of ground beef from a Nebraska processing plant set the stage. When Mike Doyle announced he could stop E. coli 0157:H7 in its tracks, he stepped into the national spotlight.

Escherichia coli are bacteria in the intestines of people and animals. Most are harmless. But the strain identified as O157:H7 can make people sick. It can kill some children and elderly people (Research Reporter, Fall 1993).

Carried mainly in healthy cattle’s forestomachs and intestines, the bacteria contaminate a widening circle of foods, from hamburgers to apple cider, by fecal contact.

But Doyle and other UGA food scientists developed a "probiotic culture," a health-promoting bacterial culture, to stop the deadly E. coli in the cow.

"We examined about 1,200 bacteria isolated from cattle that didn’t have E. coli 0157:H7," said Doyle, who directs the UGA Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement in Griffin, Ga. "We looked for beneficial bacteria that prevent the bad bacteria from being carried in the intestinal tract of cattle."

They found 18 strains of the good guys. From these, they produced a culture they fed to cattle, which were then infected with the bad germs.

"We found that in two to three weeks, it virtually eliminated the shedding of E. coli 0157:H7," he said. The results were the same when already-infected cattle were fed the good bacteria.

A similar culture Doyle helped develop in 1984 in Wisconsin — to stop campylobacter in poultry — is still unused. But with the E. coli problem at center stage, the UGA solution is faring better.

The university has applied for a patent. And scientists evaluating the research for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine were "very excited," Doyle said.

The FDA proposed a fast-track approval process that could be completed in three years. A Dairy Management, Inc., $140,000 grant will fund further research. And several firms are negotiating to pay for continuing research.

It has a way to go yet, Doyle said. But "it looks very promising."

For more information please e-mail Mike Doyle at mdoyle@uga.cc.uga.edu

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