Led by the Stillwater-based National Institute for Microbial Forensics and Food & Agricultural BioSecurity, bioforensics researchers at Oklahoma State University explore issues related to plant pathogens and food safety. Although U.S. foods are among the world’s safest, our nation’s agriculture is vulnerable to emerging pathogens and pests that are introduced naturally, unintentionally or with harmful intent.
Recognizing a need for expanded capability to identify and attribute criminal or negligent actions involving pathogenic agents, the U.S. government and national security community have called for the development of a dedicated national microbial forensics system that includes robust capability for incidents in the agricultural and food sectors. This requires significant new research initiatives related to:
- standardization and validation of microbial typing methods
- establishment of standard procedures for sampling
- understanding pathogen genomics and phylogenetics
- evaluating the influence of natural processes on microbial forensics
- development of standard discrimination and match criteria
- understanding potential transmission routes
- establishment of an integrated data analysis system
- training/education programs for first detectors, crime scene investigators, plant disease diagnosticians, law enforcement personnel, researchers and the public
Oklahoma is among the leading U.S. states in agricultural production, and OSU is ideally competent to not only address the need of agricultural forensics (including food security), but to become a recognized national leader in this emerging discipline. Current OSU faculty, affiliated with the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in Stillwater and with the Department of Forensic Sciences at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, have already initiated research and graduate education programs in microbial forensics, supported by state funds as well as by the USDA and other federal agencies.