Food-borne pathogens cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000
deaths each year in the U.S. With the threat of terrorist attacks aimed at the nation's food supply, food
safety has been pushed even higher up the public health agenda.
In response, UC Davis researchers have partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture,
the California Department of Health Services, private industry and federal agencies to create the Western
Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS), dedicated to meeting the challenges of preventing intentional
and unintentional food contamination.
"The unique collaboration allows us to do things we couldn't do otherwise," says Jerry R. Gillespie,
director of WIFSS. "We are excited to be supporting research across campus to meet the needs of the private
and public sector."
Research within the institute includes focus areas, such as better diagnostic tests for food and water-borne
pathogens, toxins and chemicals; agricultural waste management; and risk analysis of bio-security threats.
WIFSS has been selected as a training partner of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to address agro-terrorism.
UC Davis School of Medicine professor and chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology
Satya Dandekar also serves on the board of directors of WIFSS. She stresses the importance of basic research
in food safety. Her laboratory has been pivotal in elucidating the relationship between immunity and gastrointestinal
infections in HIV infection on a molecular level. She was the first to discover that HIV targets cells
of the intestinal mucosa very early in an infection.
"HIV is a model of mucosal immunity gone wrong," she says. "Elucidating this process also helps
us understand how food-borne pathogens overcome our natural barriers to infection and will help us develop
strategies to fight such micro-organisms."