Engineering a plant protective microbiome to control foodborne disease

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Salmonella is a leading cause of foodborne disease costing the UK £2 billion annually. Contaminated fresh produce is a common cause for outbreaks, with Salmonella readily colonising and forming
biofilms on fruits and vegetables.

Biofilms are inherently resistant to antimicrobials, hard to remove and pose a major threat to food security and public health.

Indoor soilless growing systems (eg. vertical farms) are widely used as controlled growing environments. However, these systems, albeit controlled, are not sterile with outbreaks being common and detrimental to production and financial gain. Human pathogen outbreaks are an existential threat to grower reputations, who spend substantial sums employing sterilization measures which are unreliable and in cases harm plant growth.

Current pathogen control strategies of fresh produce rely on chemicals and are limited in efficacy against biofilms. This project aims to develop natural control measures to prevent contamination of
produce with human pathogens.

Salmonella is not a normal member of the plant microbiome but many other microbes are. These species are safe, and some can outcompete invading pathogens. This project will follow up our preliminary data to identify and develop environmental bacterial isolates as safe and effective biocontrol agents to prevent human pathogen contamination of produce.

Dr Eleftheria Trampari from the Quadram Institute is working on this project with Concert Bio, a company who help businesses manage their microbiome.