To boost food safety, IBM and Mars are partnering to conducted one of the largest metagenomic studies to “categorize and understand microorganisms and the factors that influence their activity in a normal, safe factory environment," according to a recent press release. The food and tech companies created the Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain, a collaborative food safety platform that will leverage advances in genomics to further understanding of what makes food safe.
So what does this collaboration mean for industry? Well, as most in the industry know, food safety is a huge issue that impacts consumers, manufacturers and Washington. And genetic data can offer a very different look at natural environments and how to create new systems that ensure food safety all the way up the food supply chain—from farmer to fork.
IBM and Mars’ research intends to, first, “investigate the genetic fingerprints of living organisms such as bacteria, fungi or viruses and how they grow in different environments, including countertops, factories and raw materials. This data will be used to further investigate how bacteria interact, which could result in completely new ways to view supply chain food safety management." IBM Research said the experiment between the two companies will involve researchers who are harvesting and sequencing the DNA and RNA of simple food samples to determine where anomaly and mutations occur when paired with common organisms or genes, toxins and heavy metals. Resulting in a "microbial baseline," the index produced from this study will be a gold standard for food and health officials globally to understand what triggers contamination and the spread of disease.
According to Jeff Welser, VP and lab director at IBM Research – Almaden: "Genome sequencing serves as a new kind of microscope—one that uses data to peer deeply into our natural environment to uncover insights that were previously unknowable. By mining insights from genomic data, we're seeking to understand how to identify, interpret and ultimately create healthy and protective microbial management systems within the food supply chain."
It will be extremely interesting to see what comes out of their research. For more on food safety and other regulatory issues, check out Josh Long at The Food Law Blogger.
Photo/diagram from IBM Research.