( File Photo )

Research is being done to advance testing methods for human pathogen viruses in produce.

Current testing methods are costly, complex and time-consuming, but research funded by the Center for Produce Safety is looking to change that.

Gloria Sánchez-Moragas, Ph.D., said in a news release that she hopes to change that by identifying viral indicators using metagenomics, which is defined as the next-generation tests that examine the genetic content of an entire microbial community found in a sample.

Should she be successful in finding an indicator, Sánchez-Moragas said it may provide a basis on which an assay could be developed for the produce industry.

“If we’re able to find a surrogate, the next step would be to develop a quick, easy method to detect the indicator,” said Sánchez-Moragas, a food microbiologist with the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research in Valencia, Spain.

Standard genomic sequencing of a virus involves a complex multi-step procedure to isolate and then amplify genetic material from one organism before tests akin to molecular fingerprinting can be run. Specific equipment and trained personnel are required to perform the analysis, and these types of tests are mainly used for research.

In contrast, the release said Sánchez-Moragas’ project differs in that uses metagenomics to try to analyze and separate all of the genetic material found in an entire irrigation water, human fecal or produce sample. The key to metagenomics is in sample preparation, and these researchers already have developed a protocol.

“You don’t culture your pathogen,” she said. “You produce the sequences of all of the genomes.”

An abstract on the research is at bit.ly/CPS-abstract.