Translating science into food safety policy and practice
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By: Laura Binkley
Achenef Melaku Beyene DVM, MSc, is a TARTARE fellow working on his PhD at the University of Gondar, Ethiopia that recently spent 6 months (end of 2019 beginning of 2020) here at The Ohio State University gaining research experience in Dr. Ahmed Yousef’s lab. Below, we have interviewed Dr. Achenef about his experience and current work.
What is your main research question as part of TARTARE?
As a part of TARTARE and my PhD work, I will try to find the best answers for the following questions:
- To what extent is food of animal origin, particularly raw meat and milk in and around Gondar, contaminated by non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) and Shiga Toxin producing E. coli (STEC)?
- What is the contribution of NTS and STEC to foodborne illness of the community in and around Gondar?
- Is there any molecular relationship among NTS and STEC isolates from human, animal, and food so as to assess the transmission dynamics and design appropriate control and prevention strategies?
- Is it possible to minimize contamination during the production of milk for dairy farmers by providing training on intervention techniques for dairy farmers?
What drew you to the field of Microbiology?
Microbes are part of our life, some of them cause disease in humans and animals; others are beneficial, particularly in dairy and other industries. So, to minimize the harmful effects and maximize the benefits, it is essential to know about them and work with them. In developing countries like Ethiopia, several diseases due to microbes are not yet controlled and introduce huge morbidity and mortality. These are all factors that drew my attention to learning more about them and deciding to work on them.
What are some of the methodologies you were able to learn throughout your experience at The Ohio State University in Dr. Yousef’s lab?
During my six months stay in Dr. Yousef’s laboratory, I got the opportunity to practice on a range of general techniques to specific molecular procedures. The first two months of my trainings were focused on general bacteriological techniques. This was followed by detection and confirmation of Salmonella in food samples using standard procedures. I collected samples in local and international food stores in Columbus and was able to analyze them. The detection procedure includes culturing of the food samples using nonselective and selective media. In addition, the suspected colonies of bacteria were confirmed by a biochemical test (API- 20E) and molecular producers (both conventional and multiplex PCR). Towards the end of the period, detecting Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) was the focus of the training. In the meantime, I was able to attend lectures on food microbiology and molecular diagnosis of infectious diseases. Generally, I strongly believed that the training boosts my capacity and prepared me to conduct other microbiological or molecular techniques easily and efficiently.
Have you been able to implement any of these methodologies in Ethiopia?
Yes, the plan is to implement almost all procedures in Ethiopia under the TARTARE project. The methodologies will be applied to detect Salmonella and STEC in food of animal origin, particularly in raw meat and milk. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic is creating obstacles with implementing methodologies in Ethiopia.
What was your favorite or most enjoyable aspect of your experience at The Ohio State University?
I like the laboratory working environment, it is well-equipped and the necessary facilities are available. If there is a demand for reagents, the purchasing and delivery process was so quick. Working with the team in the laboratory with active follow up by the professor was so great. This was very interesting and allowed me to learn more. There was also a weekly lab meeting to assess progresses and solve problems if any. If such conditions were fulfilled in Gondar, I would have finished my PhD work within 6 additional months.
What are your greatest challenges thus far with implementation?
The greatest challenge to implementing methodologies acquired from Ohio is absence of a biosafety level II laboratory to handle Salmonella and other pathogens in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Gondar. There was a plan to renovate one of our laboratories. The process was started; however, it has been interrupted due to the current pandemic. I am hoping that the process will be commenced and the issue will be resolved. Otherwise, we will have to look for other laboratories with better facilities.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your experience working in foodborne illness research with The Ohio State University?
Yes, I would like to acknowledge individuals and institutes that directly or indirectly helped me for the success of the training. I would like to thank Prof. Ahmed Yousef, Prof. Wondwossen A. Gebreyes, Dr. Ahmed G. Abdelhamid, and Dr. Barbara B. Kowalcyk for their technical assistance and guidance. I am also grateful to NIH Fogarty International center, OHEART, GOHI, East Africa Regional Office for the opportunity. I would like to extend my thanks to The Ohio State University International office for the reception and guidance to make my stay smooth and fruitful. The assistance of Kayleigh Gallagher was also so great, thank you. Finally, I would like to acknowledge lab members in the department of Food Science and Technology for their help during the practice.