IBM-powered DNA sequencing could find bacteria in raw milk

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Babies love milk. Adults love milk-based products. You know what else loves milk? Good and bad bacteria. It’s the ideal medium for bacteria growth and could cause various food-borne illnesses, especially if consumed in raw, unpasteurized form. Researchers typically just test the milk supply in the US for specific pathogens or harmful bacteria and viruses, but IBM and Cornell University want to take things a step further. They plan to create new analytical tools that can monitor raw milk — that’s milk straight out of the udder — and instantly detect any anomaly that could turn out to be a food safety hazard.

To be able to build those tools, they first need to be intimately familiar with the substance and the microorganisms that tend to contaminate it. They’ll sequence and analyze the DNA and RNA of dairy samples from Cornell’s farm, as well as of all the microorganisms in environments milk tends to make contact with, including the cows themselves, from the moment it’s pumped. Their tests will characterize what’s "normal" for raw milk, so the tools they make can easily tell if something’s wrong even if it’s an unknown contaminant we’ve never seen before.

This project however, is just the beginning. They plan to apply what they learn to other types of produce and ingredients in the future in order to ensure that they’re safe for consumption, especially if they were imported from abroad. Martin Wiedmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety, from Cornell University said in a statement:

"As nature’s most perfect food, milk is an excellent model for studying the genetics of food. As a leader in genomics research, the Department of Food Science expects this research collaboration with IBM will lead to exciting opportunities to apply findings to multiple food products in locations worldwide."