(July 11, 2016) -- In a new study published in Frontiers in Microbiology, Mark Eppinger, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) describes innovative strategies to track disease-causing pathogens like E. coli. Eppinger hopes his research will aid in halting and preventing large-scale outbreaks.
“When there’s an outbreak of human pathogenic E. coli, a timely response is very important,” he said. “Usually, at first no information is available about where the disease originated.”
Eppinger, a member of the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, calls the method he developed at UTSA a form of whole genome sequence typing of outbreak strains. According to the researcher, each outbreak features unique characteristics. The outbreak strains have subtle traits that make them distinguishable from other strains, which makes it possible for Eppinger to compare and contrast them to other outbreaks.
He likens the investigation to looking at a parking lot full of the same blue car. They all look very similar, but Eppinger is looking for the tiniest differences such as a dent, a scratch or a broken tail light.
“No detail is too small,” he said. “We can use these differences to trace the outbreak back to its contaminated source by looking to see if these traits existed in other reported outbreaks of the same pathogen.”
Finding similarities between outbreaks allows for the pathogen to be traced back to a certain country or region, or even to a singular location. The more quickly investigators can find the source of an outbreak, the faster they can contain the outbreak.
Eppinger’s strategies can also aid in identifying how lethal the pathogen can be. In his study, he focused on outbreaks of E. coli, which has recently affected restaurants like Chipotle and companies like Totino’s, which sells frozen pizza products.
“Some outbreaks can be more severe than others,” he said. “As a result of the 2006 outbreak, which spread through spinach, nearly half the people effected were hospitalized and a large portion had permanent kidney damage.”
By studying strains from different past E. coli outbreaks with his techniques, Eppinger is able to measure the amount of toxin produced in each strain, which is a direct mediator of disease and shows how severe the resulting illness could be.
“In terms of outbreak investigation, you can ask a person where they’ve eaten, where they work and if they’ve traveled recently,” Eppinger said. “If we get an outbreak strain, we can map it directly to other outbreak strains and pinpoint the origin. The answer is there in these tiny details.”
Read Mark Eppinger’s study “Whole Genome Sequencing for Genomics-Guided Investigations of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Outbreaks.”
Learn more about the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biology.
UTSA's annual sustainability festival, showcases the university’s and the City of San Antonio’s progress on researching and developing sustainable solutions to improve the quality life for future generations.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom (HUC 1.104), Main Campus
The institute will feature a performance from Eva Ybarra, the “Queen of the Accordion.” Manuel Medrano will premiere a documentary on Ybarra’s career. Two people receive free admission with a voucher available here.
Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Get involved and register to vote. Click on the link to find out the locations on the Main and Downtown Campuses.
Multiple locations on the Main and Downtown Campuses
Learn about products and services available for studying, working, and making it to graduation! Speak directly to OIT managers, provide feedback on UTSA tech, and have your voice heard! Lunch and OIT gear provided. RSVP at: www.utsa.edu/oit/sic.
University Center, Denman Ballroom (2.01.28), Main Campus
Come meet the candidates looking to take home the crown as Mr. and Ms. UTSA 2017-2018. This is your opportunity to hear the candidates platform and learn how they plan to represent and transform UTSA.
University Center, Retama Auditorium (UC 2.02.02), Main Campus
UTSA's Friends of Shakespeare hosts this annual performance seried by Actors from the London Stage, Sept. 27, 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Arts Building, Recital Hall (ARTS 2.03.02), Main Campus
The Monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery will prepare a mandala sand painting on the main exhibit floor and offer various lectures and activities.
UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Meet researchers and practitioners from academia, industry and government who are working to address smart cities related issues. Register here: https://utsaresearch.wufoo.com/forms/smart-cities-networking-luncheon/
Durango Building, La Villita Room (DB 1.116), Downtown Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.