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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Aug 1;83(16). pii: e01144-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01144-17. Print 2017 Aug 15.

Strain-Level Metagenomic Analysis of the Fermented Dairy Beverage Nunu Highlights Potential Food Safety Risks.

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Teagasc Food Research Centre, Fermoy, Ireland.
APC Microbiome Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
Microbiology Department, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Animal Research Institute, Accra, Ghana.
Teagasc Food Research Centre, Fermoy, Ireland


The rapid detection of pathogenic strains in food products is essential for the prevention of disease outbreaks. It has already been demonstrated that whole-metagenome shotgun sequencing can be used to detect pathogens in food but, until recently, strain-level detection of pathogens has relied on whole-metagenome assembly, which is a computationally demanding process. Here we demonstrated that three short-read-alignment-based methods, i.e., MetaMLST, PanPhlAn, and StrainPhlAn, could accurately and rapidly identify pathogenic strains in spinach metagenomes that had been intentionally spiked with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in a previous study. Subsequently, we employed the methods, in combination with other metagenomics approaches, to assess the safety of nunu, a traditional Ghanaian fermented milk product that is produced by the spontaneous fermentation of raw cow milk. We showed that nunu samples were frequently contaminated with bacteria associated with the bovine gut and, worryingly, we detected putatively pathogenic E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae strains in a subset of nunu samples. Ultimately, our work establishes that short-read-alignment-based bioinformatics approaches are suitable food safety tools, and we describe a real-life example of their utilization.IMPORTANCE Foodborne pathogens are responsible for millions of illnesses each year. Here we demonstrate that short-read-alignment-based bioinformatics tools can accurately and rapidly detect pathogenic strains in food products by using shotgun metagenomics data. The methods used here are considerably faster than both traditional culturing methods and alternative bioinformatics approaches that rely on metagenome assembly; therefore, they can potentially be used for more high-throughput food safety testing. Overall, our results suggest that whole-metagenome sequencing can be used as a practical food safety tool to prevent diseases or to link outbreaks to specific food products.


fermentation; food-borne pathogens; metagenomics

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