Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a genetic test that could help the beef cattle industry more rapidly detect pathogenic Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7, and according to the university, could save the cattle industry millions of dollars annually by developing earlier and accurate E. coli detection.

Kansas State develops genetic test to detect E. coliThe project is being led by graduate student Lance Noll, T.G. Nagaraja, university distinguished professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, and Jianfa Bai, assistant professor in the K-State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and is part of a bigger research project studying preharvest food safety in cattle.

The new test is a molecular assay, or polymerase chain reaction, that has been developed and validated to detect and quantify four genes specific for E. coli O157:H7. Specifically, it detects bacteria based on genetic sequence, which Nagaraja calls the “bacteria’s fingerprints.”

According to K-State, the test is rapid, less labor intensive and can be used in a diagnostic lab to accurately test many samples for E. coli. It can also be automated, the university reports, and help with quality control in cattle facilities.

"Developing a method to detect E. coli before it can potentially contaminate the food supply benefits the beef industry by preventing costly recalls but also benefits the consumer by ensuring the safety of the beef supply," Noll said.

The project is being funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.