UCSB researchers Michael Mahan and Douglas Heithoff recently discovered “hypervirulent” strains of Salmonella. New methods to identify this especially dangerous form of Salmonella may allow scientists to effectively reduce food poisoning caused by these strains of the bacteria.

These particular Salmonella bacteria are more potent than normal strains since they tend to produce more toxins.

Previously, scientists had not yet developed accurate methods to distinguish hypervirulent strains from other, less toxic strains; however, because of the research conducted by Mahan and Heithoff, these “super” strains are more easily identified.

“We developed methods to detect hypervirulent Salmonella bacteria, i.e. Salmonella with an increased capacity to cause disease,” project scientist Heithoff said.

Hypervirulent strains of Salmonella are potentially dangerous to humans since they can be prevalent in food that has not been sanitized properly. Additionally, ingestion of Salmonella is the most common food-borne illness in the United States. Symptoms often include nausea and gastrointestinal issues.

Mahan and Heithoff hope that their research may reduce or prevent this health hazard by improving detection of contaminated food.

“Salmonella live in the intestines of many food animals and animal waste can contaminate fields where fruits and vegetables are grown,” Heithoff said. “Development of detection methods for hypervirulent Salmonella will improve food safety.”

Additionally, Mahan and Heithoff hope that their research will go further than simply detecting the hypervirulent strains of Salmonella. By increasing human resistance to these particular strains, they aspire to eliminate Salmonella-induced illnesses. Since methods of detection have been realized, the scientists are now turning their attention toward preventative measures.

“[We hope to] develop vaccines that protect against hypervirulent Salmonella,” Heithoff said.