Chicken of the Sea – Of Microbes and Shellfish
Research into the microorganisms related to food born illness has taken a turn in the last few years. Vibrio vulnificus a formerly little known organism related to the bacteria causing cholera disease (Vibrio cholera) is now causing increasing concern associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish.
The renowned toxin biochemist Dr. Karla J. F. Satchell and her lab at Northwestern University study the organism and the mechanisms they use to cause the disease associated with this bacterial infection.
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The challenges with the organism are related to the consumption of the bacteria from uncooked food. Like other common food items such as milk, microorganisms reside within shell fish and exist within the normal ecology where the animals live. Cooking the oysters will remove the organism, much like pasteurization will eliminate the potentially harmful bacteria found in raw milk or dairy products (such as Brucella spp).
Although the current rate of disease associated with Vibrio vulnificus from shell fish is low, the severity of the disease is extremely high; potentially resulting in necrosis (dyeing of the cells of internal organs such as the gut) or death.