Among the extensive facilities at NC State’s Phytotron is a secure greenhouse that is specially designed to allow scientists to study bacteria, fungi and viruses that infect plants – or contaminate produce causing foodborne illness – in a safe and secure manner.
Kellie Burris, former postdoctoral scholar now turned staff fellow microbiologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who is based in the department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Science, is using NC State’s secure greenhouse to study how fresh fruits and vegetables become contaminated with foodborne pathogens before harvesting.
“NC State’s Phytotron greenhouse is unique in that it is BSL-3 certified, one of only a handful of such facilities in the U.S.,” said Burris. “The FDA wanted to better understand how outbreak-related Salmonella strains can contaminate fresh produce, but they needed access to a high-containment facility to isolate the microbes from the natural environment. And that’s how my project started.”