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June 2018 | Volume 6, Issue 2


Director’s Update


ear STEC CAP Nation, I hope you are all doing well and having a good, productive year. Thank you to everyone that made the long trek to Florence, Italy to give presentations at the VTEC 2018 meeting in May. I know we had several collaborators and students from Kansas State in attendance, and I appreciate you making the effort to present your work there. VTEC is an important international meeting exclusively focused on Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. I also want to thank all of you who are continuing to give STEC CAP presentations and workshops across the nation. All of this is important work that we promised to deliver. On July 9, we will have our annual breakfast at IAFP. Please see the announcement in this newsletter and plan to attend if you are coming to IAFP next month. Please let me know if you or your students are giving a poster or oral presentation at IAFP. I will advertise your presentation in my breakfast talk. Thank you to all who provided me Director’s Update

Student Perspective

with brief updates on your progress in Piestar. These updates are actually required for me to approve payments of invoices. Thanks to Ben Kohl and Ben Claar, who modified Piestar so that I do not have to send out any more Word file attachments for you to complete. As a reminder, I asked everyone to provide me with a more complete update by June 30, so please do so such that I might best report our outcomes and accomplishments to Dr. Walls and others. A major bit of news, to my surprise, is an opportunity Dr. Walls informed me of to request a third and final nocost extension. I do plan to go ahead with this request. The purpose for a no-cost extension (NCE) is not to introduce new projects, but to complete pre-existing or planned projects for which extenuating circumstances have prevented their completion, and for which funding still exists. We have some projects that fall into this category. This ...continued on page 3 STEC CAP Team 126D VBS Lincoln, NE 68905 PHONE: 402-472-8564 FAX: 402-472-9690


n Eric Wommack’s lab, we study microbial ecology and try to understand how viruses and bacteria interact with one another and with their environment. We spend a lot of time asking basic ecological questions, such as what viruses and bacteria are present in a sample, and what are they doing. It’s definitely what you might call basic science. If you had asked me why I study viruses from the environment before I started working on the STEC-CAP, I probably would have said something like, “Because they’re cool!” For someone already interested in viruses or ecology in general, that may be a good answer. But when you’re at a conference, standing in front of your poster and the eyes of your audience are starting to glaze over, wondering why they should care about any of this, you realize quickly that you need a better motivator for your research. It may not be clear at first how our research group fits in with the rest of the STEC-CAP. In the past, pathogenicity was considered a one-to-one relationship between pathogen and disease. With ...continued on page 3 Inside this issue

Director’s Update........................................1 Student Perspective....................................1 Megaburgerz ...............................................2 STEC CAP breakfast agenda......................4



Creating the Megaburgerz Educational Graphic Novel Series


he graphic novel series, Megaburgerz and the E. coli Outlaws¸ was created as an add-on to the Food and Nutrition Science (FNS) curriculum. The FNS curriculum is a project-based curriculum for secondary education students to learn about food and nutritional sciences. It includes four courses that are intended for secondary education classrooms: 1) food production, nutrition and health, 2) food science, 3) nutrition science, and 4) student research projects. The graphic novel was created to expand the reach of the curriculum and the impact it has on students’ knowledge of food safety by engaging students in food safety and foodborne illnesses in a different way. The series helps students understand the key points in preventing illness and allows them to use this knowledge in their own lives just by following along with the characters.

Megaburgerz and the E. coli Outlaws is a three-part series of graphic novels related to the food safety and science of E. coli. The idea was generated after reviewing other informative graphic novel series produced through the University of Nebraska, such as World of Viruses (University of Nebraska Press, 2015). The goal of these graphic novels was to capitalize on the previously discussed educational benefits by bringing awareness of food safety and the dangers of foodborne illnesses, specifically E. coli, to high school-aged students by using characters and short stories to translate scientific material into understandable and relatable concepts. Megaburgerz is divided into three books, with each book building to form a complete story revolving around food safety. In book number one, two teens are hired at a local fast food restaurant and are immediately

required to complete a food safety training. While one teen is eager to learn, the other continuously messes around – much to their boss’ chagrin. When the two teens both fall asleep during a boring food safety video, they are mysteriously transported to a bacteria wasteland where they must follow their boss’ lead and learn how to fight the infamous gang of E. coli outlaws. Books two and three continue on with the teens’ learning and battles, as they learn not all bacteria are

bad, how to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria by cleaning and washing their hands, disinfecting work spaces, chilling foods when they are not being cooked, and cooking beef to a safe temperature. The story culminates with the teens learning the battle with harmful strands of E. coli is never over, and they must always be vigilant. The story closes with the awakened teens eagerly awaiting their training at Megaburgerz and hints that their boss actually coordinated the entire experience in the bacteria wasteland.

In total, the Megaburgerz series includes 60 pages of content. The reader is introduced to E. coli and the importance of simple food safety procedures, such as Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill (USDA). Additionally, it engages high school students in understanding scientific terms and lessons by allowing them to read creative and engaging short stories. Megaburgerz is a free resource and is available for download from the FNS curriculum webpage (

Written by Jason Ellis and Robert McKendree

...Student Perspective ...continued from page 1 continuing advances in the study of host-associated microbial communities (microbiomes), we can start to frame the pathogen-host relationship in the context of interactions between populations of invading pathogen species and the microbiome of the host. Specifically, we’re asking how the microbiomes of beef cattle interact with STEC, and how that might mitigate the risk of STEC transmission. In a way, it is easy to understand why the work that STEC-CAP researchers are doing is important, simply because of the sheer number of illnesses caused by STEC each year. Over 175,000 people per year are estimated to contract a STEC infection. Sure, that’s a lot of people, but it’s hard to connect emotionally with a number that big (a phenomenon that psychologists call “psychic numbing”). And given that our work with the STEC-CAP doesn’t include outreach, work with consumers, or even seeing the cows from which our samples come, it’s easy to be emotionally distant from the human side of the project. At a recent STEC-CAP meeting, we heard from a speaker whose son had died from a STEC infection. Hearing the story of a particular family’s tragedy, you start to feel the impact that STEC can have on people’s lives. It’s no longer an abstract concept. Instead, you’re shown pictures of this boy who died. You see him and hear

him through the stories of a father who still struggles to talk about it after so many years. Microbial community dynamics sound a lot less abstract when considered in the context of a project that is trying to figure out how to stop situations like that from happening. I’m not trying to say that research always needs a direct connection to our daily experience, but when it’s getting late on a Friday evening and you’re still in the lab, frustrated with an experiment that won’t work and thinking, “what’s the point?,” it helps to have those families in the back of your mind. For me, the STECCAP gives a sense of humanity to a subject that could otherwise be considered over-specialized or out of touch. Especially at a time when scientists doing basic research need to be engaging with the public, injecting some humanity into our science may be exactly what we need. Written by Ryan Moore

...Director’s Update ...continued from page 1 additional time period will also allow people to get work published, and will enable me to include that into the final report. As done previously, I must submit a formal request that addresses the reason along with a progress report to Dr. Isabel Walls for approval. I will give an update on that subject in my breakfast presentation at IAFP and will follow up after that with a group email to everyone. Please let me know if you have any questions and thanks again for all you do for the STEC CAP.


STEC CAP COLLABORATORS BREAKFAST agenda Monday, July 9th, 2018

International Association of Food Protection Salt Lake City, Downtown Convention Center Room to be posted 7:00 AM Continental Breakfast 7:10 AM Dr. Rodney Moxley - Welcome & Brief Update 7:20 AM Dr. Isabel Walls – Welcome & Brief Update

7:30 AM Prevalence and concentration of STEC in feces and hides of cull dairy cattle in processing plants Joaquin Baruch, Kansas State University

Survival of STEC in low moisture products and update on future activities Nooshin Moradi, Texas A&M University

8:15 AM DISMISS RSVP to Jill Hochstein at

Check us out on the Web! Visit us at: Subscribe to the listserv. Send an email to: In the message field: subscribe stecbeefsafety This work is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant no. 2012-68003-30155 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

STEC News - Summer 2018  

STEC CAP Newsletter - June 2018

STEC News - Summer 2018  

STEC CAP Newsletter - June 2018