Unit Diagnostics, Pathogen Characterisation, Parasites in Food

One of the central tasks of this unit is the assessment of risks resulting from so-called zoonotic pathogens that are of relevance to human health. Of particular interest in this regard are bacterial and parasitic pathogens that may be transmitted to humans via plant and animal foods. Moreover, the unit conducts research on  pathogen-host interactions under experimental conditions and investigates specific questions relating to pathogen interaction, pathogen diagnostics and pathogen epidemiology. Our work also includes the assessment of risks from genetically modified organisms. Genetic modifications may lead, for example, to modification of virulence and pathogenicity factors of a specific agent which in turn can result in a higher risk group classification of the modified version. Genetic modifications may also occur naturally (changes in pathogens) which may also result in the emergence of novel sometimes more pathogenic agents that require adapted risk assessments leading to higher risk estimations eventually.

Another key area is the characterisation and fine differentiation of zoonotic pathogens with the aim of examining potential sources of infection for humans. Bacteriological, parasitological, serological and molecular biology detection methods are applied for this purpose. Laboratory tests are carried out under accredited conditions in accordance with generally recognised quality standards (ISO 17025).

The unit comprises the National Reference Laboratory for Trichinellosis and a laboratory for vibrio spp. diagnsotics (formerly the National Reference Laboratory for Bacteria in Bivalve Molluscs). The work is based on EU Directive 2003/99/EC on the monitoring of zoonoses and zoonotic agents. Similarly, unit 45 fulfills responsibilities  with its diagnostic and research laboratory for yersinia spp. and its Consultant Laboratory for leptospira spp.. In addition to carrying out the routine tasks of their reference and consultant laboratories, the unit is  involved in several national, European and international research activities and participates together with partner institutes, universities and laboratories in various funded research programs .

Alongside the tasks outlined above, the unit now also extends its activities to support and advise  public authorities and federal organizations with responsibilities in  public safety and security, on the potential for the misuse of biological pathogens and biological hazards.

The scientific work of the Unit focuses on the following topics:

  • Diagnosis and fine differentiation of bacterial and parasitic zoonotic pathogens using phenotyping, serological and molecular biology methods
  • Development and validation of methods for pathogen isolation and characterisation
  • Assessment of risks resulting from bacterial and parasitic zoonotic pathogens
  • Assessment and provision of advice on the potential for misuse of hazardous biological pathogens
  • Investigation of pathogen-host interactions using acknowledged animal models
  • Mechanisms and effects of horizontal gene transfer on the emergence of novel food-related zoonotic pathogens
  • Molecular mechanisms and the importance of transduction for horizontal gene transfer (in particular bacteriophages)
  • Molecular-genetic characterisation of bacterial genomes and plasmids of pathogenic variants and related environmental isolates thereof; analysis of genomic islands

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