IBM and Mars set up consortium to utilize genomics for food safety

IBM Research and Mars have set up the Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain to utilize genomics to ensure food safety.

The consortium will conduct a metagenomics study to categorize and understand micro-organisms and the factors that influence their activity in a normal, safe factory environment. IBM may extend the work — from farm to fork — and lead to new insights into how microorganisms interact within a factory ecology and be better controlled by new data.

The scientists will 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. They will use this data to investigate how bacteria interact, which could result in new ways to view supply chain food safety management.

IBM said the application of genomics will enable an in-depth understanding and categorization of micro-organisms in a big way.

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In the U.S., one in six people are affected by food-borne diseases each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations, 3,000 deaths, and $9 billion in medical costs. $75 billion worth of contaminated food is recalled and discarded annually, said IBM.

Jeff Welser, vice president and Lab Director, IBM Research, said: “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.”

The research will initially focus on select raw materials and factory environments but will ultimately extend up and down the food supply chain and include applications for farmers.

They will collect the first data samples at Mars-owned production facilities, while IBM’s genomics, healthcare and analytics experts will utilize IBM’s Accelerated Discovery THINKLab, a collaborative research environment, for the large-scale computational and data requirements of this initiative.

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