The Gilmour group is interested in understanding the microbial traits of Listeria that contribute to its significant risk as a foodborne contaminant and then human pathogen.
As an environmental microbe, Listeria may be present directly within raw foods or food ingredients and then survive food safety control efforts. Additionally, Listeria clones may progress to become established within food production or food service environments, also leading to contamination of foods. In any exposure scenario, Listeria’s evasion of control treatments and its persistence can be dictated by an array of adaptive processes such as the acquisition of antimicrobial resistance (i.e. to sanitizers) and the formation of microbial communities (i.e. biofilms).
There is an opportunity to understand and then control the risk of Listeria by studying these niche adaptations that lead to our exposure and illness. To do this, we study the genetic variation and gene dynamics of Listeria isolated from foods and food production environments, with comparison to those clones that have resulted in human illness and outbreaks of disease. We study the traits that are essential for Listeria survival and persistence through mutagenesis and culture-based models. We also study microbial populations and metagenomes to get the full view of hazards that are present on foods.
The outcomes of genome sequencing and microbiome studies will drive the design of collaborative studies within the programme using large transposon libraries for the clones of interest, that when paired with functional studies, will further identify specific traits that support the adaptive processes of Listeria. These traits will then be brought forward to our partners to determine their significance to inform and potentially mitigate food hazard risks.