San Jose, Calif. – Two U.S. companies have joined forces to better understand what makes our food safe.
Scientists from IBM Research and Mars Incorporated have established the Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain.
The consortium’s aim, explains Engadget.com, is to take a closer look at microorganisms in a safe factory environment to help cut down on the billions of dollars lost each year in the U.S. to medical costs and discarded food.
The consortium plans to conduct the largest-ever metagenomics study to categorize and understand micro-organisms and the factors that influence their activity.
“The consortium has the potential to revolutionize food safety, providing a powerful tool to identify and address new threats on an unprecedented scale, enabling critical breakthroughs in global food safety,” says Dave Crean, vice-president, Corporate Research and Development at Mars.
As a first step, say the companies, the consortium’s scientists will investigate the genetic fingerprints of living organisms such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses and how they grow in different environments, including countertops, factories, and raw materials.
This data will be used to further investigate how bacteria interact, which could result in completely new ways to view supply chain food safety management.
While many food companies already have rigorous food safety processes in place, the consortium’s application of genomics could enable an in-depth understanding and categorization of micro-organisms on a much bigger scale than has previously been possible.
The consortium’s research will initially focus on select raw materials and factory environments but will ultimately extend up and down the entire food supply chain and include applications for farmers.
Understanding soil microorganisms, for example, will be crucial to helping farmers learn how to protect their plants from pathogens while ensuring healthy growth and nutrient uptake.
“Genome sequencing serves as a new kind of microscope – one that uses data to peer deeply into our natural environment to uncover insights that were previously unknowable,” says Jeff Welser, vice-president and Lab Director, IBM Research – Almaden.
“By mining insights from genomic data, we’re seeking to understand how to identify, interpret and ultimately create healthy and protective microbial management systems within the food supply chain.”
The first data samples will be gathered at Mars-owned production facilities, while IBM’s genomics, healthcare and analytics experts will use IBM’s Accelerated Discovery THINKLab, a unique collaborative research environment, for the large-scale computational and data requirements of this initiative. Beyond the research, data and findings will be presented in a systematic way to enable affordable and widespread use of these testing techniques.