The Office of the Vice President for Research recognizes Monica Ponder, an assistant professor of Food and Science Technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, for her work to prevent people from falling prey to food-borne illnesses.
Ponder develops new methods to detect unfriendly bacteria lurking in food, identifies genes that improve the survival and disease-causing ability of bacteria that cause food-borne illness, and examines interactions of gastrointestival bacteria with each other and their host.
Ponder says biofilms — bacteria that adhere to surfaces and build protective coatings — are an increasing problem in food-processing plants. For example, Salmonella in biofilms survive on dried foods much better than previously thought, and because of this are more likely to cause disease.
One out of every six Americans becomes ill from eating contaminated food each year, with more than a million illnesses caused by Salmonella bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Finding out what makes Salmonella resistant to antibacterial measures could help curb outbreaks.
Generally, Ponder's laboratory studies the epidemiology and ecology of food-borne pathogens.
The ability of a human pathogen to colonize a plant is influenced not only by environmental stresses such as temperature exposure to ultraviolet radiation and dehydration, but also by the interaction with the native species of plant microbiota.
Ponder is working to develop strategies that make use of beneficial bacteria to control growth and survival of pathogens on produce, allowing for design of effective packing and control procedures post-harvest.
She is also looking at differences in survival, host specificity, or expression of virulence genes using a combination of molecular subtyping methodologies and comparative molecular techniques to enhance the ability to develop intervention strategies and interpret subtyping data used to trace food-borne outbreaks.
Her research seeks to understand the effects of prebiotics and probiotics on gut microbes and the health of their hosts, and she also investigates the role of gut microbes in childhood diseases.
Ponder received her doctoral degree in microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University and completed postdoctoral work in enteric diseases surveillance and epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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