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Experts decode germs’ DNA to fight food poisoning

The nation’s disease detectives are taking aim at outbreaks by routinely decoding the DNA of deadly bacteria and viruses.
The nation’s disease detectives are taking aim at outbreaks by routinely decoding the DNA of deadly bacteria and viruses.Photos by David Goldman/Associated Press

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Chances are you’ve heard of mapping genes to diagnose rare diseases, predict your risk of cancer, and tell your ancestry. But to uncover food poisonings?

The nation’s disease detectives are beginning a program to try to outsmart outbreaks by routinely decoding the DNA of potentially deadly bacteria and viruses.

The initial target is listeria, the third-leading cause of death from food poisoning and bacteria that are especially dangerous to pregnant women.

Already, the government credits the technology with helping to solve a listeria outbreak that killed one person in California and sickened seven others in Maryland.

Whole genome sequencing, or mapping all of an organism’s DNA, has become a staple of medical research. Now it’s coming to public health.

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