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New CRP: Nuclear Techniques to Support Risk Assessment of Biotoxins and Pathogen Detection in Food and Related Matrices (D52044)

New Coordinated Research Project

Fish is a potential medium of consumer exposure to both biotoxins and pathogens if not well controlled.  (Photo: J.Sasanya/IAEA)

A new 5-year coordinated research project (CRP) on biological toxins (biotoxins) and foodborne pathogens that will start in January 2022 is now open for proposals. The CRP has a One Health perspective and will focus on analytical methods and generation of data on biotoxins such as cyanotoxins in fresh-/inland water and associated foods along the chain; biomarkers of these toxins and some targeted mycotoxins; toxins from pathogens; and pathogens of both zoonotic and nonzoonotic nature associated with outbreaks and national or international emergencies and concerns.

Research is required for the development, validation, establishment and implementation of nuclear/isotopic analytical techniques and approaches to support rapid and cost-effective testing, investigation and control of biotoxins and pathogens in food. This CRP will facilitate global risk assessment as well as preparedness and the ability to respond to food safety and related emergencies associated with biotoxins and foodborne pathogens.

Being well prepared to identify and characterize emerging or neglected food pathogens (and related hazards such as biotoxins/non-infectious agents) that may be associated with epidemics/pandemics is a major global challenge today for researchers, food safety laboratories and other stakeholders. There are currently limited analytical capabilities and risk assessment tools available to enable reliable and effective testing and control of such hazards. There is also a need for accurate and timely/rapid identification and discrimination of culprit pathogens down to subspecies level, especially in case of outbreaks. Conventional microbial detection methods can be laborious and time consuming and are therefore not ideal when responding to emergencies. Other bottlenecks include a lack of harmonization of control systems, limited general diagnostic and investigative capabilities, and limited availability of background data on a broad range of hazards. Consequently, outbreak investigation remains a challenge to both developing and developed countries. The CRP will contribute to the establishment of methodology to generate robust, reliable and reproducible data, as well as their collation and management.

Nuclear and isotopic techniques along with mass spectrometric tools, such as matrix assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI TOF MS), can offer solutions for accurate, timely detection and characterization of pathogens.

Research capabilities established or improved through this CRP are also expected to generate information on biotoxins including biomarkers. There is an urgent need to improve the knowledge of inland water algal blooms and their effects on human health through the monitoring of cyanobacterial cells, cyanotoxins and associated biomarkers. Reliable and rapid diagnostic tools are needed in order to advance robust monitoring programmes in Member States. There is limited data on cyanotoxins in plant-based food and foods from farms using water that may contain cyanotoxins. How and whether these cyanotoxins may also end up in other food products along the food chain is not clear. Research correlating cyanotoxin contamination in water and cyanotoxins in food matrices is therefore required. Biomarker studies can enhance knowledge of the presence and prevalence of hazards in food and biological matrices critical in population biomonitoring.

The CRP’s overall objective is to:

Develop and implement methodology to support food safety and related laboratories as well as control programmes in Member States, in the early, rapid, reliable detection and/or characterization of biotoxins and foodborne pathogens, including zoonotic agents, associated with food and related matrices, and to facilitate preparedness and response to relevant public health emergencies.

This project will research and utilize techniques including pulse-chase (using S-35, H-3, C-14 etc.), autoradiography, liquid scintillation counting and stable isotope labelling by amino acids in cell culture (SILAC) or related chemical labelling techniques, along with isotope assisted mass spectrometry techniques such as matrix assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Other relevant techniques include radioreceptor/immuno assays involving the use of H-3 and C-14 labelled radio tracer compounds; isotope dilution mass spectrometry, isotope-labelled (deuterated, C-13 and N-15) compounds along with complementary chromatographic or related techniques in sample preparation to improve precision.

The specific objectives are to:

  1. Develop improved detection techniques for rapid identification and characterization of food- and water-borne pathogens (including targeted zoonotic agents) by: MALDI-TOF-MS; isotope-assisted proteomics; creating an enhanced MALDI database for emerging pathogens;
  2. Identify and characterize biomarkers of biotoxins (including cyanotoxins from a perspective of fresh-/inland water, and associated plant, animal or related food products) and foodborne pathogens;
  3. Develop, validate and optimize rapid, reliable and confirmatory nuclear, isotopic and complementary analytical methods for testing, monitoring and control of a wide scope of biotoxins;
  4. Develop and implement rapid and cost-effective sample preparation tools and techniques for biotoxins and food pathogens;
  5. Develop tools to facilitate generation and dissemination of reliable scientific data to support risk assessment strategies related to control and mitigation of biotoxins and microbial hazards;
  6. Investigate and conduct correlation studies on the levels, patterns and prevalence of biotoxins and microbial hazards;
  7. Generate protocols and standard operating procedures;
  8. Prepare and disseminate research findings and methodologies.

How to join:

Please submit your proposal for a Research Contract or Agreement by 10 December 2021 via email to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the appropriate template on the CRA website. The CRP may remain open to additional proposals thereafter, depending on resources.

For further information related to this project, applicants should use the contact form under the CRP page.

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