Notes from the Lab: What It Means to Expand A Research Project

We highlighted last month that ARAC received a grant from the Wellcome Trust to study the impacts of California’s new legislation limiting the use of antibiotic drugs given to livestock raised in the state. This grant builds upon work already underway by the ARAC team. Our team has been testing retail chicken and human biological samples from Southern California for antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria. Wellcome’s funding is allowing us to expand the study to encompass all major meat types and two additional bacteria: Campylobacter and Salmonella, which are associated with foodborne illness and antibiotic-resistant infections. “This grant enables us to better study the legislation’s effect on foodborne bacteria known to cause infections in people” said ARAC director Dr. Lance B. Price.

Due to this sizeable expansion, Niyati, one of our research assistants, interviewed our lab team to highlight what this actually means for their day-to-day work.

Q: This new funding is allowing for a significant increase in sample size. What does this mean in the lab and why is it needed?

We are processing a lot more meat -- around 150 samples per week. Additionally, we are no longer just testing chicken. We have now incorporated turkey, pork, and beef into the study which means we have new challenges in processing the meat.

The reason for this major expansion is so we can get a more complete picture of how foodborne bacteria and human infections respond to this new legislation. We are also trying to more accurately calculate what percentage of human infections come from these different meat types.

Q: How does this impact the workflow of the lab?

This has had a huge impact on the workflow of our lab. We now have six research assistants helping with the processing and testing of the meat. This also brings to the forefront our ability to organize and maintain a functioning lab. The two keys to keeping up with the study will be organization and persistence. Organization is what we will thank ourselves for later. Persistence is what will get us through when we face unforeseen issues that are out of our control (broken equipment, lost shipments, etc.).

Q: Where are the new samples coming from?

Currently, the samples we are receiving are all purchased in the Southern California region. However, as you can imagine this does not mean all of it was produced within the state. A portion of the meat we are testing is produced in California and the other portion is meat that is produced outside the state. The meat produced outside of California is one of our study’s control groups. We use the production codes (p-codes) that are printed on all meat products to determine whether or not it was produced in California.

Q: How do you keep the meat products organized?

The new samples have brought some interesting challenges! Most notably, we've had to color coordinate our lab to make sure we have extra visual cues that help us stay organized. For example, we have color coded for every meat type. Orange for turkey, yellow for chicken, red for beef and pink for pork.