2/15/01

Mike Clardy

AU LANDS TOP SCIENTISTS TO HELP FIGHT FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS

AUBURN -- Auburn University has taken the war against food-related illness to a new level by adding two eminent scientists to its faculty. Richard Cernosek, professor of materials engineering, and Valery Petrenko, professor of pathobiology, bring more than 50 years of combined experience to the Auburn Center for Detection and Food Safety.

They will join 24 other Auburn faculty in seeking ways to dramatically reduce food-borne disease through rapid detection of bacteria.

Before arriving at Auburn, Cernosek spent 24 years at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.. His last nine years focused on development and improvement of sensor platforms, a key area in the Auburn research. He will apply his experience at AU as the research team works toward development of a hand-held device that detects harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella.

"The push now is to make things smaller, more integrated, faster, cheaper and consume less power," said Cernosek. "I like what is already in place here at Auburn and am looking forward to joining the team, especially now that I'll have a chance to teach.

"I'm a believer in this project. The sensor we are creating will directly touch the lives of people. That's good. Contributing to the consumer market is always very exciting for scientists. This can make a difference in the way people live their lives."

Bryan Chin, director of the Center for Detection and Food Safety says Cernosek brings world-class recognition to the Auburn research effort.

"Richard is one of the top scientists in the United States in the area of acoustic wave sensors. He'll help us fabricate a detection sensor quicker and more effectively. We want him to teach the next generation of scientists and engineers. The research program really leverages our education effort."

Valery Petrenko, a native of Russia who spent seven years at the University of Missouri, was also brought onboard to help make bacteria-detecting sensors smaller and more efficient. A pioneer of phage technology, Petrenko offers the team an entirely new method for detection.

"Current detection methods involve antibodies, which have limitations," said Petrenko. "Our phages, as selected recognition elements, give more possibilities and can function in different unfavorable environments. We believe the phage is a perfect material for fabrication of bio- selective layers in biosensors."

Petrenko said the Auburn initiative will succeed because it combines the skills and talents of scientists of all disciplines.

"Here we have a strong collaboration on an issue that is very important. Cross discipline is the key. I'm not a specialist in materials engineering, but as a group we can do many things." Added Chin: "We envisioned a long time between when we discovered this technology and when we actually put it to use. These new faculty will speed the process along."

Each year 76 million people are affected by food-borne illness. More than 325,000 are hospitalized, and as many as 5,000 die.

The vision of the Auburn Research Center for Detection and Food Safety is to improve the U.S. food system through the latest scientific and engineering technology. The goal is to place a sensor in every fresh food product we buy. This microchip will make instant determinations whether the food is safe to eat at every point along the food-supply chain.

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feb01:AU-foodsafety