BYU professor’s research pinpoints cheese contamination

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Cheese is a staple in many people’s daily diet, but little is known about how the cheese gets from the farms to our mouths. There are many factors involved with tracing bacteria process to create the best product possible.

In a recent study spearheaded by professor Keith Crandall, he traced bacteria to pinpoint where cheese contamination starts. With help from graduate student Eduardo Castor Nallar from Santiago, Chile, and a previous study done by collegues in Australia, his team began their research. With prior engagements outside of the country, information regarding the study was conducted in emails. Crandall said in an email his specialty is in developing bioinformatic approaches to DNA sequence analysis and then applying these techniques to address interesting questions in population genetics and evolutionary biology.

[media-credit name=”Photo by Jaren Wilkey / BYU” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
BYU Professor Keith Crandall in his lab.
Finding the contaminating bacteria source was essential to furthering the research and stopping it from hindering the cheese from developing. Bacteria is crucial to create cheese, so finding why the developing process was interrupted helped to keep the process moving along.

According to Crandall, his team used the DNA sequences to make inferences about organisms relate to one another and what their past population history and migration patterns might have looked like. He explained they used the phage DNA to look at how the different phage were related to one another and how this corresponded to where they were collected.  From there they could infer the source of the phage and also the changes in the phage genome associated with interacting with the bacteria they attack.

“We have been working with phages and viruses that infect bacteria and other organisms of economic importance,” Nallar said in an email. “In this research, we aim to address questions related to HIV biology itself, and also about evolutionary biology.”

From their research they were able to measure migration rates and source factory of the phage. They were able to use this research and its findings and apply them to other areas of science as well.

“We use these same principles to examine evolution of rhinoviruses (they cause colds) and HIV,” Crandall said. “They are very powerful approaches to understanding the evolutionary dynamics of infectious diseases.”

Nallar was able to use his research to help solve problems in his native country. His research helped provide more insights about the virus transmission from Europe to Chile. He said he recently came back from a meeting in Santiago where they presented this paper, and it was very well received.

“The study is important to science because it reiterates the fundamentals of evolutionary biology and how we can use our understanding of evolution to test hypotheses about everyday life – including cheese manufacturing!” Crandall said.

Crandall and Nallar co-authored a paper on this research and it was recently published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution. Their research and efforts were well received and recognized by many.

“The tools available today make it possible to do things that were unimaginable only a few years ago,” Dean of Biology and Agriculture Rodney Brown said.

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