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Introducing Genomics Day at IFT16

BY: Mary Ellen Kuhn
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Genomics sequencingGenomics is a term that we’re starting to hear more and more in the food industry and with good reason: It has the potential to affect agricultural production, food safety, and product development. So it is fitting that Monday, July 18, is Genomics Day at IFT16, providing an opportunity for those with an interest in this cutting-edge topic to learn more about it. All Genomics Day sessions will take place in room N427d of McCormick Place.

Genomics Day sessions were organized by Lawrence Goodridge, director of the Food Safety and Quality Program at McGill University. In his laboratory at McGill, Goodridge uses genomics to study differences between serovars of Salmonella enterica as a first step in developing more efficient approaches to detecting and controlling this important group of pathogens when they contaminate fresh produce. Goodridge explains that genomics refers to the use of modern scientific approaches to determine the sequence of DNA and then analyze that sequence to elucidate information from the genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism) of all living things.

“Genomics is a powerful first step in providing information regarding how foodborne pathogens can survive in foods and the environment and subsequently grow and cause illness in humans and other animals,” says Goodridge. “Genomics offers unparalleled resolution of bacterial genomes, and the increasing speed with which the entire genomes of bacteria can be sequenced and analyzed means that information regarding pathogenesis, antibiotic resistance, and relatedness to other closely associated bacteria (among many other things) can be determined in near real-time.”

On Monday, Genomics Day will begin with a session presented by Goodridge titled “Genomics 101.” In it, he will offer an overview of the history and terminology of genomics, including an introduction to advanced genomic concepts such as whole genome sequencing, metagenomics, epigenomics, and bioinformatics. The session will conclude with practical examples of the use of genomics in food science.

Subsequent sessions will take an even deeper dive into the topic. In the session focused on spoilage, presenters will explore how metagenomics is replacing culture-based mechanisms for identifying microbial populations that are responsible for food spoilage. A production application session will take a look at the use of genomics to produce personalized beverages. A final session will address some of the regulatory and legal ramifications of the use of genomics in food science.

With the world population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, the science of genomics has the potential to play an important role in feeding the planet’s inhabitants. “Genomics represents a wonderful tool by which we can begin to address the challenges of an increasingly globalized food supply,” says Goodridge. “Genomics will allow us to better understand how plant pathogens cause disease, which can lead to ways to decrease food spoilage,” he points out.

“At the same time,” he continues, “food production is expected to become more personalized much in the same way as medicine is becoming more personalized. The use of genomics will allow for food to be tailored exactly to an individual’s preferences, thus vastly increasing the satisfaction of ingesting a meal.”

So whether it’s with one session or a full-day immersion in the topic, consider tapping into the wealth of information available courtesy of IFT16 Genomics Day presenters.

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