The new patent-pending detection method, which is available for immediate use to identify contaminated shellfish, is a significant advance in efforts to identify shellfish harbouring disease-carrying strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
"Since 2012, the Northeast has been experiencing an ongoing outbreak caused by a non-native strain of V. parahaemolyticus that is endemic to the Pacific Northwest.
"A significant challenge for managing shellfish harvesting to prevent infections is that we were previously unable to tell the difference between this strain and harmless residents," said Cheryl Whistler, one of the authors of the paper about the method's development.
The new detection method was developed using genome sequencing and analysis. It could form the basis for a diagnostic test for widespread use in both environmental detection and clinical diagnosis.
V. parahaemolyticus is the most common bacterial infection acquired from seafood in the world. There are an estimated 35,000 cases each year in the United States.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the incidence of shellfish contamination, which has caused costly recalls of shellfish and shellfish bed closures in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Some strains of the microbe cause disease and others do not.
The new detection method identifies the Atlantic ST36 strain of the bacterium, which the researchers determined has been responsible for the bulk of the Vibrio outbreaks in the Northeast in recent years. They were able to identify specific genes found only in the invasive strain.
"The new detection platform will provide rapid, and more importantly, specific quantification of the invasive strain, we hope allowing more effective management of harvesting that will protect this important regional industry," added Ms Whistler.
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