Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain

IBM Research and Mars tackle global health with food safety partnership

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The significant threat of food borne illness affects nearly every industry on every continent from government and healthcare to agriculture and retail, yet the massive issue continues to puzzle experts. Aside from rigorous testing along the entire food chain - beginning with the soil at the farm and ending with the consumer - there is little done from an information technology standpoint to circumvent contamination at any point in the process.

In a novel large-scale experiment between IBM and Mars, Inc., researchers are harvesting and sequencing the DNA and RNA of simple food samples to determine where anomaly and selection occur when paired with common organisms or genes, toxins, and heavy metals. The index produced from this study will result in a "microbial baseline," or a benchmark representing normal microbe communities, which food and health officials can use to understand what triggers contamination and the spread of disease.

Investigating the genetic fingerprints of food ingredients and their environments will help us unearth genomic keys to healthy food and people.

Jeff Welser, Vice President and Lab Director, IBM Research - Almaden



Food safey analytics process

A carefully designed informatics infrastructure developed in the IBM Accelerated Discovery Lab, a data and analytics hub for IBM researchers and their clients and partners, will help the team parse and aggregate terabytes of genomic data from Mars and apply decades of refined analytics to uncover new insights. Adding relevant weather, transport and other contextual data could help define a targeted breakout, marking on the index a warning for food producers and distributors at the outset of a processing cycle.

The research environment uniquely allows experts from both parties to integrate data from multiple sources, and to use state of the art bioinformatic algorithms to identify the active genes and metabolic processes in the food ingredients. This allows for identification of anomalies with speed and precision, and to design new tests and protocols for for different food and health processes.




Wild DucksRather than merely testing for bacteria, we can now view the entire food supply as a whole by analyzing billions, even trillions of life forms, which can move us from pathogen prevention to something that's closer to actual prediction.

Wild Ducks Podcast: A new recipe for food safety

Former IBM chairman Thomas Watson, Jr. knew how important it was to work with people who question the way things are and challenge the status quo. In fact, he even had a name for them: Wild Ducks. See and hear their inspirational stories.




Minimizing contaminated food outbreaks is a big public health issue. In the U.S. alone, one in six people are affected by food-borne diseases each year. That results in 128,000 hospitalizations, 3,000 deaths, and $9 billion in medical costs. Add to that another $75 billion annually in contaminated food that has to be recalled and thrown away. As the food supply chain becomes more global and complex, food safety issues will continue to increase until there are new scientific methods to mitigate the safety hazards within the system.

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Food safety statistics

About Food Safety

Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain

The Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain (SFSC) will examine the global food chain - from farms, transport, processing facilities and distribution channels to restaurants and grocery stories - and apply genomics and analytics techniques to mitigate food borne illness and other risks in food management.

The Consortium, run by IBM Research and Mars, Inc., will focus on surveillance, risk asssessment and diagnosis of food borne pathogens, using a scientific approach:

How to Join SFSC

SFSC seeks to address challenges in the food industry that have not been solved by traditional approaches, coupling IBM's $6B investment in cross-industry analytics R&D with the deep industry expertise of Mars and extended bioinformatics partners.

Membership requires a two-year minimum commitment, in order to contribute effectively to the research and development aspect of the program, and sufficiently collaborate to address large-scale business, planning or operational issues that will provide extraordinary value to the member.

Membership enables direct collaboration and partnership with IBM and its unique Accelerated Discovery research environment, working in a secure setting on specific data challenges, with access to IBM's portfolio of analytics and data management capabilities.

Food Safety News

Review our listing of Sequencing the Food Supply Chain (SFSC) Consortium-related peer-reviewed journals, conference information, news, and more.

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