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Can Synthetic Biology Keep Your Food Safe

On a hot summer day, nothing spells refreshment quite like a slice of juicy, orange cantaloupe. But in summer 2011, cantaloupes reached plates with an unwanted addition: listeria. In the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak since 1925, cantaloupes contaminated with this bacterium killed 33 people.

Unfortunately, cantaloupes weren’t the end of the story. A year later, listeria tainted another well-loved American staple: cheese. This time the bacteria killed four people. If the contamination had been detected before the food arrived on plates, these deaths could have been prevented.

A few months from now, a Boston-based start-up company will market a test kit that will do just that: detect this deadly bacterium in the processing plant, before it reaches the grocery store. They’ve used the tools of synthetic biology to create this novel, rapid test for Listeria contamination.

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