Michigan State University has received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find ways to reduce the amount of E. coli released by cattle, and in effect, decrease the number of foodborne illness in humans.


“More than 70,000 people become ill due to shiga toxin-producing E. coli every year,” said Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, in a news release.  Beachy, who visited MSU to make the announcement, added that “understanding how the bacteria contaminate water and food supplies will help prevent thousands of illnesses and improve the safety of the nation’s food.”

The project is being led by Shannon Manning, molecular biologist and epidemiologist in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at MSU, with a goal of improved detection and control of shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

“These infections are a national concern, particularly during outbreaks when public health agencies are rapidly trying to identify the sources to prevent additional infections,” said Manning, whose work is funded in part by MSU AgBioResearch. “The data generated through this project will aid in the development of STEC control methods that can be used to improve food safety.”

STEC is a leading cause of foodborne and waterborne infections, and most outbreaks are caused by fecal contamination from cattle and other ruminants. However, little is known about the factors that impact shedding from these animals.

Manning and her team of researchers will examine a number of factors, including:

— Identifying bacterial genotypes and epidemiological factors important for shedding in multiple herds.

— Comparing the composition, diversity and function of the microbial communities within the digestive tract and ruminal fluids of shedders and nonshedders.

— Determining how STEC affects the bovine immune response to infection, identifying inhibitory compounds from “nonshedding” animals and developing strategies to decrease shedding.


The research team expects to develop new ideas for direct-fed antimicrobials, vaccines, therapies and other control strategies that can reduce the frequency and level of STEC shedding. It is anticipated that this will lead to a reduction in food contamination, transmission to humans and STEC-related illnesses.

The grant was awarded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths by improving the safety of the food supply, and thus reduce impacts on public health and on the national economy.