Investigators currently approach the challenges of containing an outbreak of foodborne illness from an epidemiological standpoint by attempting to link patients to a likely source of contamination. Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou is using a new technology known as CRISPR, which dramatically speeds up the editing of bacterial genetics, to examine the pathogen’s DNA and determine its origin and the route it took in triggering an outbreak.
Dr. Barrangou, who won two prestigious awards in 2016 for his role in developing CRISPR while working in private industry, is also using the process to potentially cure patients suffering from foodborne illness. He is programming phages—viruses that attack bacteria—to eliminate virulent strains of E. coli. This process could even be used against antibiotic-resistant strains, a rapidly mounting concern within the health community.
Universities play a vital role in serving the world. As a professor, I can share more about my CRISPR research and contribute to a broader range of applications and sciences.
– Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou
His process may prove better for patients than traditional antibiotics. Most antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. When they are taken to treat E. coli, they also kill microorganisms in the digestive tract that help people synthesize key nutrients. Barrangou’s CRISPR technique would only target the E. coli, leaving the patient’s gut flora intact and accelerating recovery.