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Western blot test confirms Alabama beef cow positive for BSE
by Pete Hisey on 3/13/2006 for
A beef cow from a farm in Alabama has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford said today in a news conference. The disclosure follows an announcement last weekend that Rapid tests on an animal March 9 had yielded inconclusive results for BSE. The animal, believed to be about 10 years old, was non-ambulatory when examined by a local veterinarian; two Rapid tests indicated BSE and a Western blot test by the USDA's veterinary laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the disease. The animal had only lived on the farm for a year, and APHIS will work with Alabama officials to trace its herd of origin and its offspring. Clifford said this afternoon that it was too early to know if the animal was of U.S. or Canadian origin.

The agency is estimating the animal's age based on dentition examinations. Results from an immunohistochemistry (IHC) test will not be ready until the end of the week, but Clifford said the Western blot results "are sufficient to assume a positive" result. "We will be working to locate animals from this cow's birth cohort¡¦and any offspring," Clifford said. "We will also work with Food and Drug Administration officials to determine any feed history that might be relevant to the investigation. Experience worldwide has shown us that it is highly unlikely to find BSE in more than one animal in a herd or in an affected animal's offspring. Nevertheless, all animals of interest will be tested for BSE."

EU eyes possible BSE cases in sheep
by Pete Hisey on 3/13/2006 for
The European Union's main animal disease laboratory in Weybridge, England is studying the brains of two sheep, one from France and one from Cyprus, that may mark the first cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in that species. The European Commission ordered further tests after scientists indicated that initial tests detected the disease.
The two cases were discovered during routine surveillance for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in small ruminants. The next round of tests may take more than a year to complete.

Food-allergic teens often take risks with food
By Megan Rauscher
Mon Mar 13, 12:16 PM ET
Source of Article:
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A substantial number of teenagers with food allergies admit to "risk-taking" behavior such as not reading food labels or knowingly eating foods labeled "may contain" allergens, a survey shows. The poll of 174 food-allergic individuals whose average age was 16 years also shows that many of them do not always carry self-injectable epinephrine -- the medication that is immediately needed in the case of a severe allergic reaction. Whether or not they pack their EpiPens depends largely on where they are going, who they will be with, and how convenient it is to carry it. If the purse is small or the clothes tight-fighting, odds are they won't carry it. "If you're not carrying it with you, it's a little hard to inject it," Dr. Scott H. Sicherer from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York warned at an asthma and allergy conference in Miami Beach. Among the food-allergic teens surveyed, 75 percent were allergic to peanuts, 20 percent to milk, 75 percent were allergic to two or more foods, 82 percent had had a severe "anaphylactic" allergic reaction at some time in their lifetime, and 52 percent had more than three. The teens reported they were most apt to carry epinephrine with them when traveling (94 percent) or going out to eat (81 percent). However, when they are with friends, at school or dance events, or on dates, "we are looking at levels that are generally below 65 percent of the time that they are carrying it," Sicherer said. Teens are least likely to take epinephrine to sports events (43 percent).

Studies have shown that food-allergic teenagers and young adults are at highest risk for dying from a severe allergic reaction. "We have to impress upon parents of these children and for the teenagers themselves and for those around them that they have to be consistent in carrying self-injectable epinephrine," Sicherer said. The survey also revealed that three quarters of the teens said they "always" read food labels, but 42 percent said they would eat a food labeled "may contain" an allergen. Only 60 percent of food-allergic teens told their friends about their allergy, but most of those that did not indicated that they wanted their friends to know and wished the school would tell them. "That's very telling," Sicherer said. "These teenagers are really thirsty for their friends around them to know about their allergy and they are a little reluctant to do the teaching themselves."

Sixty-eight percent felt that educating their friends would make living with food allergy easier.

Food safety laws in jeopardy
By Jon Brodkin
Monday, March 13, 2006

Source of Article:
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Food safety laws governing milk and restaurants in Massachusetts could be eliminated under new legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, according to an analysis of the bill. Legislation known as the National Uniformity for Food Act would pre-empt 200 state food safety and labeling laws across the country, according to "Shredding the Food Safety Net," an analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Natural Resources Defense Council. Safety laws related to milk, restaurants and food establishments would be taken off the books in all 50 states, according to the report. The federal bill would prevent states from having standards stricter than federal requirements unless they receive permission from U.S. authorities.

Massachusetts officials are trying to figure out exactly how the proposal would impact food safety here. "We're in the process of analyzing this legislation," said Donna Rheaume, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health. "It appears that food experts in Massachusetts were not consulted. We're particularly concerned about a potential impact on local industries such as shellfish and milk." Attorney General Thomas Reilly has joined 38 other AGs in opposing the Republican-backed bill, which passed the House last week after the food industry lobbied in favor of it.
The U.S. Senate has not yet taken up the proposal. U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy opposes the bill and worries "it would block Massachusetts officials from assuring food is safe and wholesome," a spokeswoman said. In Massachusetts, the bill would effectively kill a law requiring the DPH commissioner to regulate the production, storage, distribution and sale of raw milk for pasteurization, according to the "Shredding the Food Safety Net" report.
The bill also could nullify Massachusetts laws that bar the sale of milk that fails to meet standards, allow inspections of testing equipment and milk plants, and prevent the placement of offal, swill and kerosene in dairy product containers. The bill, according to the report, also would eliminate Massachusetts laws that require medical examinations of people handling food and establish financial penalties for the improper manufacturing and preparation of food.

Another state law governing what types of fish can be labeled "halibut" could also be voided. Food industry groups hailed the passage of the bill, saying it eliminates "conflicting and inconsistent regulations" by establishing nationwide standards. Each state will have the opportunity to keep its laws on the books even if the bill passes, according to a paper by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "No existing state requirement that differs from a federal requirement would be preempted without the opportunity for petition, and state requirements would remain in effect while FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) considers the states' petitions," the GMA wrote. But Reilly and other attorneys general contend the petition process described in the bill is "slow, expensive and uncertain," and robs states of their traditional role protecting consumers with laws governing food packaging and food safety.

"Under this bill, states would be forbidden from adopting their own policies, even if the federal government had not acted in a particular area or adopted a particular warning," the attorneys general wrote in a March 1 letter to members of Congress. "Important consumer warnings dealing with mercury in fish, arsenic in drinking water, and lead in cans are just a few examples of states' food labeling requirements that would be eviscerated by this bill."

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Invisible danger? Parents look inside the lunchbox
March 12, 2006
New York Times
Julie Bick
At a recent gathering of kindergarten mothers in Seattle, Shawn Lilley was cited as telling the women that chemicals could leach from plastic bags and other
plastic containers into food, and since then, a few more kindergartners have shown up with sandwiches in wax paper.
Linda Walker, who packs lunch daily for her three children, was quoted as saying, "Shawn researches these kinds of things, and it's not that much more
expensive, so we switched."
The story says that whether the information on chemical hazards comes from magazines, the Web or the playground, many parents are changing their buying habits to try to protect children from what they see as dangers. Information
on what exactly is toxic, however, is scant and sometimes conflicting.
Dr. Leonardo Trasande, assistant director at the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York was cited as saying that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved 80,000 chemicals for consumer use, and of those, 2,800 are produced in volumes of more than a million pounds a year, but fewer than half the high-volume ones have been studied for toxicity, and that until more information is available about those chemicals, parents should focus on common and significant risks, like lead, pesticides and tobacco smoke, in their children's environment.
The story says that some plastics contain additives like bisphenol A (BPA) and
Phthalates and Dr. Wade V. Welshons of the University of Missouri in Columbia was cited as saying these have been found to be harmful in animal studies; the Centers for Disease Control has detected them in the urine of a majority of the thousands of people it has tested in the United States.
BPA is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in polycarbonate packaging for all types of food "based on numerous safety tests," according to the Society of the Plastics Industry, a trade group. But Dr. Welshons said a re-evaluation is needed, focused on the last five years of research. Many plastic bags and wraps are made with 100 percent polyethylene, so Dr. Trasande and others call them safer.
Ms. Lilley began buying organic foods nine years ago, when she became
pregnant with her first child. Since then, the newsletter from the
Puget Sound Community Co-op, where she shops, combined with Web
research, has persuaded her to buy wax paper bags, dye-free detergent
and other cleaners that emphasize natural ingredients.

Bush seen picking von Eschenbach as FDA chief
March 10, 2006
Reuters Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON - A government official was cited as saying Friday that President Bush was expected to nominate acting Food and Drug Administration chief Andrew von Eschenbach as the permanent head of the health agency.
The nomination, which the official said was expected in the coming days, is likely to face scrutiny from Congress and reignite debate over the FDA's delayed decision regarding easier access to emergency contraception.
It is also likely to draw renewed attention to an agency that has been without a full-time administrator for most of Bush's presidency and has faced concerns over drug safety.
Von Eschenbach has been acting commissioner of the FDA since September, when Commissioner Lester Crawford abruptly resigned. Crawford stepped down less than three months after he won a congressional nomination battle that included tough debate on over-the-counter access to emergency contraception.
A physician and cancer survivor, von Eschenbach took on the FDA post while still head of the National Cancer Institute, where he later relinquished his daily duties amid criticism.

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Two Chileans diagnosed with human variant of mad cow disease
March 10, 2006
Agence France Presse
SANTIAGO - Two Chilean women in the southern city of Curico were diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, the brain-wasting human variant of mad cow disease, local officials said Thursday.
The women, one 32 and the other 67, were hospitalized in this town located 194 kilometers (120 miles) south of Santiago.
Officials do not know how they contracted the illness, but a regional top health official, Gerardo Herrera, said the illness may be due to women's genetic makeup and not necessarily because they ate contaminated meat.

Queen Mary 2 reports outbreak of stomach virus en route to Los Angeles
March 6, 2006
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Tom Stieghorst
The Cunard Lines ship Queen Mary 2 reported an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness on her voyage last month to Los Angeles. The luxury cruise ship reported that 31 crew and 86 passengers were ill with symptoms consistent with acute gastroenteritis.
That amounted to 2.4 percent of the crew and 3.4 percent of passengers. The Centers for Disease Control said the ship's tests for common bacterial causes of intestinal illness came up negative. The Queen Mary 2 stepped up cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
The health agency said more tests are being done for the possibility that the illness was caused by noroviruses, a common, nonfatal source of illness on cruise ships and land.

Cruise ship gastroenteritis outbreaks show sharp increase since 2001
March 4, 2006
Medical News Today
Researchers led by Elaine H. Cramer, M.D., were cited as reporting in the March issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine that based on analysis of cases of gastroenteritis reported on cruise ships calling on U.S. ports from 2001 through 2004 that gastroenteritis outbreaks per 1,000 cruises increased overall from 0.65 in 2001 to 5.46 in 2004. However, ship environmental inspection scores were high during this period, with an average of 95 on a 100-point scale.
Noroviruses are the likely suspects, according to Cramer, medical epidemiologist with the Vessel Sanitation Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stating, "Since the introduction of more advanced laboratory techniques that can positively identify noroviruses, these viruses have increasingly been identified as associated with cruise ship outbreaks."
In the year before the study, two passengers were likely to come down with gastroenteritis on an average seven-day cruise, rising to three cases per cruise during the study period.

GIPSA Approves Veratox¢ç Aflatoxin Test Kit to Detect Aflatoxin for Commodities in Addition to Corn

Source of Article:
Washington, DC--The USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration announced Mar. 7 that Neogen Corporation Veratox¢ç Quantitative Aflatoxin test kit, Product #8030 quantitative kit has been expanded to include additional commodities for official testing of aflatoxin in the national grain inspection system. GIPSA has now approved the official use of the Veratox¢ç Quantitative Aflatoxin test kit to determine total aflatoxin levels in corn, corn gluten meal, corn meal, corn soy blend, cottonseed, distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), milled rice, popcorn, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat.

Aflatoxins are toxins produced by a mold that can be present in corn, sorghum, and other grains. According to GIPSA administrator James Link, approval to test additional commodities using this kit expands the choice of aflatoxin test kits available to the national inspection system. For technical information, call Lynn Polston, GIPSA Technical Services Division, at 816-891-0444.
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Bacterial Identification Using MALDI BioTyper¢â system
source from:
Identification and classification of microorganisms can now be achieved using protein 'fingerprints' measured by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. The characteristic protein expression patterns of microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi, can be analyzed with the new MALDI BioTyper¢â system from Bruker Daltonics which will on show at Pittcon 2006.

The remarkable reproducibility of the MALDI BioTyper is based on the measurement of high-abundance proteins, including many ribosomal proteins. As ribosomal proteins are part of the cellular translational machinery, they are present in all living cells. As a result, the MALDI BioTyper protein fingerprints are not significantly influenced by variability in environmental or growth conditions. This is a crucial advantage of this new microbiology method, as it allows the generation of robust MALDI BioTyper libraries of microorganisms.

The MALDI BioTyper represents an excellent complement to classical microbiological identification and classification techniques, and to modern PCR-based techniques. In contrast to other approaches, the MALDI BioTyper does not require any initial assessment like gram staining, oxidase test of unknown samples, choice of PCR primers or usage of selective growth media. Applications of the MALDI BioTyper include taxonomical research on microorganisms, infectious disease research, as well as microorganism detection and identification in environmental analysis, food safety and water quality.

Using standardized MALDI BioTyper methods, after an overnight culture growth, cell material can either be directly transferred onto a MALDI-TOF target plate, or it can be analyzed after a rapid organic extraction procedure. Excellent reproducibility can be achieved routinely even by inexperienced users. Easy and cost-effective sample preparation combined with rapid TOF data acquisition in seconds allows the analysis of hundreds of samples within a day. Redundant measurements are possible to further increase the level of confidence.

The MALDI BioTyper bioinformatics package performs the microorganism identification and classification based on MALDI-TOF proteomic signatures. The MALDI BioTyper software carries out all necessary data processing steps leading from raw spectra to peak lists. The generation of reference spectra for individual strains is automated, but the software also allows for expert interaction. Microorganism identification is performed by pattern matching between reference spectra and MALDI-TOF profiles of unknown strains. The analysis results are visualized in an intuitive graphical user interface.

In addition to enabling the identification of known microorganisms, the MALDI BioTyper software offers a variety of advanced algorithms for the characterization of unknown microorganisms, including clustering and phylogenetic dendrogram construction. This unique feature allows the protein signature classification of unknown species and strains, and uniquely complements taxonomical and phylogenetic approaches, such as ribosomal DNA sequencing. The MALDI BioTyper typically achieves identification at the genus or species level. In many cases even different microbial strains can be distinguished.

Genome signature tagging used to quickly identify and distinguish between pathogens and harmless microbes
Medical Science News
Published: Monday, 6-Mar-2006
Source of Article:
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new, high-throughput technique for identifying the many species of microorganisms living in an unknown "microbial community."
The method, described in the March 2006 issue of Applied Environmental Microbiology, has many applications -- from assessing the microbes present in environmental samples and identifying species useful for cleaning up contamination to identifying pathogens and distinguishing harmless bacteria from potential bioterror weapons.

"Microbial communities are enormously diverse and complex, with hundreds of species per milliliter of water or thousands per gram of soil," said Brookhaven biologist Daniel (Niels) van der Lelie, lead author of the study. "Elucidating this complexity is essential if we want to fully understand the roles microbes play in global cycles, make use of their enormous metabolic capabilities, or easily identify potential threats to human health."

Growing cultures of microbes to identify species is slow and error prone as the culture conditions often screen out important members of the community. Sequencing entire genomes, while highly specific and informative, would be too labor intensive and costly. So scientists have been searching for ways to identify key segments of genetic code that are short enough to be sequenced rapidly and can readily distinguish among species.

The Brookhaven team has developed just such a technique, which they call "single point genome signature tagging." Using enzymes that recognize specific sequences in the genetic code, they chop the microbial genomes into small segments that contain identifier genes common to all microbial species, plus enough unique genetic information to tell the microbes apart.

In one example, the scientists cut and splice pieces of DNA to produce "tags" that contain 16 "letters" of genetic code somewhat "upstream" from the beginning of the gene that codes for a piece of the ribosome -- the highly conserved "single point" reference gene. By sequencing these tags and comparing the sequenced code with databases of known bacterial genomes, the Brookhaven team determined that this specific 16-letter region contains enough unique genetic information to successfully identify all community members down to the genus level, and most to the species level as well.

"Sequencing is expensive, so the shorter the section you can sequence and still get useful information, the better," van der Lelie said. "In fact, because these tags are so short, we 'glue' 10 to 30 of them together to sequence all at one time, making this a highly efficient, cost-effective technique."

For tag sequences that can't be matched to an already sequenced bacterial genome (of which there are only a couple hundred), the scientists can use the tag as a primer to sequence the entire attached ribosomal gene. This gene is about 1400 genetic-code-letters long, so this is a more time-consuming and expensive task. But since ribosomal genes have been sequenced and cataloged from more than 100,000 bacterial species, this "ribotyping" technique makes use of a vast database for comparison.

"If there's still no match," said van der Lelie, "then the tag probably identifies a brand new species, which is also very interesting!"

In another test with possible applications for identifying agents used in bioterror attacks, the technique also clearly discriminated between closely related strains of Bacillus cereus, a pathogenic soil microbe, and Bacillus anthracis, the bacterial cause of anthrax.

This technique could also help assess how microbial community composition responds to changes in the environment. Such information might help identify which combinations of species would be best suited to, say, sequestering carbon or cleaning up radiological contamination.