GV researcher awarded grant to ensure consumer safety in Michigan

Dr. Kevin Strychar is a researcher at GVSu who is studying E. Coli in food and its negative impact on health.   Courtesy / Grand Valley State University 

Dr. Kevin Strychar is a researcher at GVSu who is studying E. Coli in food and its negative impact on health.   Courtesy / Grand Valley State University 

Elyse Greenwood

Grand Valley State University researcher Dr. Kevin Strychar was awarded more than $95,000 by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to increase consumer safety in Michigan through new E. Coli research.

Dr. Strychar, a researcher from Grand Valley’s Annis Water Resources Institute, has been testing a new method of E. Coli characterization used in the water sprayed on blueberries in Michigan. This project focuses on advances in an imaging flow cytometer, an instrument that characterizes particles in different liquids utilizing laser technology. Unlike other cytometers, this tool includes a microscope that uses a laser beam to gather monitored images, specifically various strains of E. Coli. 

The benefit of this research is the rate at which the E. Coli could be detected. “One of the drawbacks of (current technology) is that, at the absolute minimum, it takes two hours,” Strychar said. “Why does it take that long when we can do something very similar to that and it would only take us 20 seconds?” 

The ability to notify farmers within seconds that the water used on crops contains harmful bacteria would benefit both the agricultural industry and consumers. For example, farmers would have the opportunity to reprocess water samples before contaminating more crops. In addition to cutting farmers’ losses, this research would ensure consumer safety throughout Michigan, especially with the increased number of recalls lately. 

“I like being a part of a project that influences the region I’m from,” said Darrick Gates, a Grand Valley undergraduate student involved with the project. “Agriculture is a huge industry in West Michigan.” 

While all crops can benefit from these advances, this research is directed specifically toward blueberries. The main concern with blueberries is the potentially hazardous water sprayed on the plant. 

“One of the sources of water is from some of the reclamation pots, or the sewage pots,” Strychar said. “They apparently clean everything out and a lot of the water gets dumped back into the Great Lakes, or they use that water to spray on crops. One of the concerns is E. Coli in this water.” 

Imaging flow cytometry is a relatively new method that was introduced within the last ten years. Due to this recent advance, there are only three imaging flow cytometry machines in Michigan. 

“Not many people know what cytometry is, and even less know about flow cytometry,” Gates said. “Not too many people know what it is capable of because most testing with it has been done on blood samples in hospitals.” 

In the future, Gates hopes this field will advance to a mobile flow cytometry unit that could travel to farmers rather than sending samples to labs. Eventually, he believes that this technology could advance to an industry of mobile cytometry units.

As research is still in the beginning stages, it is hard to predict when it will be completed. However, Dr. Strychar hopes to receive initial results by next summer. These results would include a template that would enable farmers to bring samples for testing and obtain results in less than a minute. 

“When we look at stuff like pathogens on food crops, we’re trying to use high-technology to make improvements for consumer safety,” Strychar said. 

The money awarded to Strychar will help him to continue his research and increase consumer safety.