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Funding Awarded to Detect E.Coli in Food Processing Facilities


Media Release, Calgary – Genome Alberta is pleased to announce on behalf of our funding partners the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the results of our collective funding competition for the  rapid detection of pathogenic E.coli. Each of the two successful applications will receive $500,000 in new funding. The successful projects will leverage this investment with additional funding to bring the total investment to $1.6 million over the 18 month life of the projects.

The first project receiving funding is titled “Rapid Sampling and Detection of STEC in Meat” and is led by researchers Linda M. Pilarski and Lynn McMullen from the University of Alberta. The second project receiving funding is titled “Point-of-Need Gene-Based System for Detection of Priority STEC in Beef” and is led by researchers Michel G. Bergeron of Université Laval and of Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec (affiliated with Université Laval) and Burton W. Blais with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The competition was launched by the funders in November of 2012 with the main objective of developing an innovative genomics based test for the presence of generic and pathogenic E.coli bacteria during food production. The funders expect that the research effort will result in new genomic-based detection methods that can be used in industry settings, and that is more sensitive, faster, and cheaper than currently available technologies.

The desired criteria for the new detection methods were developed with input from industry on the practical and business aspects, and from government to ensure the methodology being developed will meet regulatory requirements.  All applications were evaluated by an independent peer review panel comprised of industry and science experts.

Each of the successful projects will leverage this investment from the funders with additional funding to bring the total investment to $1.6 million over the 18 month life of the projects.

To arrange an interview with the researchers or with Genome Alberta’s Chief Scientific Officer please contact:

Mike Spear
Director of Communications, 
Genome Alberta
Bus) 403-210-5265
Cell) 403-813-5843 

To arrange an interview with the main funders, please contact:

Marie Cusack

Communications Director

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions

780-638-4060 (office) 

780-918-4620 (mobile)

Andrea Matyas

Genome Canada


Genome Alberta is a publicly funded organization that initiates, funds, and manages genomics research and partnerships. We were established in 2005 as part of Alberta’s Life Sciences Strategy through an initiative between the Alberta Government and federally funded Genome Canada.

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is a board-governed research agency funded by the Government of Alberta.  We invest in science and innovation to grow prosperity in Alberta’s agriculture, food and forest sectors. We routinely work with R&D partners on research and innovation projects in the areas of sustainable production, bioeconomy, food innovation, ecosystem services and prion. Visit

Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization that invests in genomics research to generate economic and social benefits for Canadians. Genome Canada builds bridges between government, academia and industry to forge a genomics-based public-private innovation enterprise focused on key life science sectors. We develop these partnerships to invest in and manage large-scale research and translate discoveries into commercial opportunities, new technologies, applications and solutions. For more information visit


Rapid Sampling and Detection of STEC in Meat

Pathogen contamination in meat has a very significant economic impact on the meat industry and a serious health impact for the public. At the University of Alberta, Drs. Linda Pilarski, Lynn McMullen, Michael Gänzle and Patrick Pilarski will collaborate with Dr. Xianqin Yang from the Lacombe Research Centre. They will modify an existing molecular testing platform for rapid detection of pathogenic E. coli. This novel platform requires minimal capital equipment, can be used by existing staff and completes the testing in under an hour, using machine intelligence to report results. The project will adapt miniaturized technology that needs only minimal human intervention, to produce a commercially viable test that meets the requirements of health regulators. Because fast turnaround testing requires a faster sampling method to prepare meat for testing, the Pilarski-McMullen research team will also develop improved sampling strategies. Its speed, capacity, and cost make this platform well suited for regular on-site testing in abattoirs and meat processing plants. This will reduce the time and cost for identification of pathogenic bacteria during meat processing and in meat products. It will help to safeguard the consumer health and enhance food safety systems.

Point-of-Need Gene-Based System for Detection of Priority STEC in Beef

The intent of the STEC7 project undertaken by the research consortium assembled by Drs Bergeron and Blais is to develop a novel test method enabling the detection of less than 10 Shiga toxin- and verotoxin-producingE.coli (STEC) cells present in 325 g of ground or trim beef, by real-time PCR in less than 8 hours, such thatE.coli-free production lots can be marketed more rapidly. The STEC7 panel, composed of seven E.coliserotypes, is a top priority of food inspection agencies in Canada and the United States of America.

To achieve this, the research team will:

  • Improve the enrichment medium currently used
  • Develop a compact and industry-friendly sample preparation strategy to efficiently recover E. coli cells from an enriched culture within 6 hours

Deliver the concentrated cell suspension to a microfluidic device and an easy-to-use automated instrument, developed in Dr Bergeron’s laboratory and now commercialised by GenePOC Inc. of Québec City, capable of detecting target E. coli in less than one hour. The efficiency, performance, and user-friendliness of the methods, tools, and GenePOC instrument will be assessed by food testing laboratories of the federal government and the private sector.

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