A new national computer network linking public health laboratories is expected to help epidemiologists identify potentially serious outbreaks of foodborne infection and trace their source.
The system, dubbed "PulseNet," uses a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, which allows scientists to create a distinctive DNA fingerprint for the infectious agent causing the outbreak. Subtle differences in these molecular fingerprints make it possible to determine whether cases of illness caused by a pathogen such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 can be traced to the same contaminated food source.
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