(Thunder Bay - December 15, 2003) While households across the country are gearing up for a busy holiday season, stocking cupboards, and planning Christmas meals, there is much more going on behind the scenes, as far as the public's food supply is concerned. Dr. Heidi Schraft, a biology professor at the University, is part of a network of researchers across Canada establishing interdisciplinary collaborations aimed at advancing the science behind food.
Dr. Schraft, Lakehead's Canada Research Chair in Molecular Food Microbiology, is looking at improving our basic understanding of the mechanisms involved in persistence and growth of pathogens in food and food production environments. Her research focuses on two pathogens: Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes - major causes of food-borne illness in North America.
Dr. Schraft is one of the participating researchers in Advanced Foods and Materials Network (AFMNET), whose work in biofilms is one piece of this national collaboration, moving Canada to take a leading role in food and biomaterials research. AFMNET is a $22-million national network housed at the University of Guelph, announced in early November 2003. It brings together a unique cohort of scientists to advance the understanding of foods and materials worldwide. AFMNET falls under the national Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program, which fosters partnerships among university, government, and public and private agencies. It is the only NCE in Canada focusing on food and allows researchers across the country to delve into food research using a multidisciplinary approach, examining the structure, texture, chemistry, esthetics, and nutritional value of food and materials as well as issues related to regulation, policy, and public perceptions.
"The NCE makes collaborations possible - it helps foster communication and a research community," says Dr. Schraft. "Spanning all of Canada, a great number of researchers are able to explore issues from three viewpoints: from the basic sciences, from societal perspectives, and also from public perceptions. These types of collaborations across themes are imperative to moving an idea forward. Research can be looked at simultaneously from three different angles - science, policy, and public health - allowing new input and feedback to be brought to light and a national sharing of research."
Dr. Schraft's work is centred on molecular microbiology work; she concentrates on the study of biofilms and their impact on food safety. Biofilms are composed of bacteria that attach to a solid surface and surround themselves with a slimy protective layer. Bacteria are able to multiply in this layer and are protected from adverse conditions. The bacteria in biofilms are highly resistant to antibiotics and common sanitizers' regular cleaning is not able to kill individual cells in the biofilm layer. Bacteria in a biofilm may even change their cell physiology to become resistant to antimicrobial treatment.
NOTE FOR THE MEDIA:
Dr. Shraft is available for interview this week. She can be reached at 343-8351.
Contact: Marla Tomlinson, Office of Communications, 807-343-8177