Dr. Mellata and her team’s project focuses on improving food safety by reducing harmful bacteria in poultry products. Its major goals are: 1) advance our understanding of the zoonotic risk of ExPEC (extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli) infections from chickens; and 2) develop and evaluate a vaccine for chickens to protect them and humans against ExPEC and Salmonella infections.
ExPEC is the leading cause of blood poisoning (sepsis) in humans. It can also cause diseases such as urinary tract infections and neonatal meningitis, which occurs when a mother passes an E. coli infection to her baby during birth.
The team’s research revealed that when ExPEC are transferred from a chicken to a mouse, the mouse develops the same diseases that the bacteria cause in humans. This indicates that some ExPEC found
in humans may be derived from uncooked, undercooked, or cross-contaminated chicken-food products.
The project also developed and evaluated vaccines that would eliminate the presence of diverse strains of Salmonella and ExPEC in chickens, and prevent diseases caused by E. coli strains in chickens and humans. While helping poultry farmers preserve their flocks, these vaccines would also protect people from zoonotic disease, and save billions of dollars in human health care costs.
At a young age, I started testing different cooking recipes in my parents’ kitchen. I soon realized that the quality of the final product depends on the quality of the ingredients. This developed my laboratory skills and my appreciation for wholesome foods. I’m excited that our research improves both human and animal health.
– Dr. Melha Mellata