Scientists with the US Department of Agriculture have found the bacterium that causes E.coli in humans, is more likely to contaminate lettuce when downy mildew is already present. Microbiologist Maria Brandl has been investigating why so many E. coli outbreaks can be traced back to lettuce fields when E. coli sources are as diverse as undercooked beef, sprouts, raw dairy, shelled walnuts, fruits and vegetables. Brandl’s research has uncovered that lettuce that is bred to be resistant to downy mildew is also less likely to host the E. coli bacterium.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture held a public hearing last Thursday, to examine the federal and state response to avian influenza. AI is recognized as one of the worst animal disease outbreaks the U.S. has ever experienced, and has infected more than 220 farms in 21 states. Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway said “It is absolutely vital that USDA and vulnerable states are prepared to respond quickly if this outbreak returns in the fall, as is expected.”