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UD research study to shed light on emerging seaborne pathogen

victim's immune system -- information that can then be used to combat, detect and prevent infection.

The aquaculture industry loses millions of dollars each year due to the contamination of oyster beds with V. parahaemolyticus during the summer months. Thus, providing oyster farmers with an agent to treat the oysters is an important overall goal and potential future direction of the research, Parent says.

Working with Parent on the project are E. Fidelma Boyd, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Delaware, and collaborator Gary Richards, a research microbiologist at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Dover, Del.

"Vibrio parahaemolyticus is most prevalent in the warmer summer months, especially in the U.S. Gulf Coast region where it occurs in high numbers," Boyd, a native of Ireland, says.

"In the past decade, the organism's geographic distribution has been extended into more northerly climes, in particular, the Pacific Northwest, most likely due to global warming. Thus, the occurrence and prevalence of the organism is likely to continue to expand," Boyd notes.

An oyster filters its food from the seawater in which it lives, ingesting not only tiny plankton but whatever else may be present in the water, including harmful bacteria such as V. parahaemolyticus. Thus, when a person consumes a raw oyster contaminated with the organism, they become infected. (Thoroughly cooking the seafood can prevent infection.)

The researchers want to determine what happens once V. parahaemolyticus attaches to a host's cells and begins multiplying.

Through a series of experiments using various infectious doses of the organism, the scientists will explore what happens when a cell is infected, and what immune response is required to eliminate infection.

"Something is happening to allow this organism to predominate," Parent says. "What makes it so powerful?

Contact: Tracey Bryant
University of Delaware

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