A gap exists between the data generated by food safety research and how that information can be interpreted and used.

But a startup company formed by a team of University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors hopes to bridge that divide, becoming the first faculty-launched spinoff company to land at Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Metagenome Analytics LLC, a software company that uses DNA sequencing technology to identify and track microorganisms in food, will help food companies interpret data and develop action plans in order to create a safer and higher quality product.

“The know-how to process and analyze the data is where the gap exists, particularly in the food and clinical industries,” said Andrew Benson, a biotechnology professor in UNL’s Food Science and Technology department.

Benson, along with Khalid Sayood, professor of electrical and computer engineering; researcher Rohita Sinha; Turkish researcher Ufuk Nalbantoglu; and UNL graduate The “Ty” Nguyen of Professional Computer Researchers, will open an office at the research park on the former State Fairgrounds.

“It’s a good place to be if you’re going to be developing products associated with food safety and food quality,” Benson said.

UNL relocated its food science department to Innovation Campus this year, while other food companies -- NuTek Food Science and Suji’s Cuisine, among others -- also have a presence at the 250-acre campus.

Along with ConAgra, the first private partner to announce intentions to move to Innovation Campus, six other companies -- Nestle, Kellogg, Cargill, Mars, Neogen and Ecolabs -- signed a letter of intent to join the Alliance for Advanced Food Safety.

Benson said Metagenome Analytics, also known as MGA, hopes to be a resource for those companies by developing specialized software for detecting and tracking microorganisms -- both good and bad -- in different food samples at UNL’s Food Processing Center and other labs across the country.

The idea is to understand where potential pathogens and contaminants are coming from, as well as learning more about potentially helpful microorganisms, Benson said.

“That’s the discovery aim -- for the first time we can identify organisms that could be beneficial, rather than simply source-tracking the bad guys,” he said.

MGA has worked with Lincoln-based Neogen to develop a DNA-sequencing-based diagnostic for the Salmonella bacteria called NeoSeek Salmonella.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


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