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U.S. Patent issued to Tuskegee University researchers for more accurate detection of viable microbes

March 30, 2017

Principal investigator Dr. Teshome Yehualaeshet collaborates with co-investigators in the college’s microbiology and molecular laboratory.
(left to right): Principal investigator Dr. Teshome Yehualaeshet collaborates with co-investigators Dr. Temesgen Samuel, Dr. Woubit S. Abdela and Dr. Tsegaye Habtemariam in the college’s microbiology and molecular laboratory.

TUSKEGEE, Ala. (January 5, 2017) – Tuskegee University researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) have a major accomplishment to be proud of with the issuing of the United States Patent no. 9434976 for the rapid and more reliable detection of viable foodborne, biothreat pathogens and other infectious microbes using modified Polymerase Chain Reaction sample preparation. The researchers credited with this time-saving invention are Dr. Teshome Yehualaeshet, Dr. Temesgen Samuel, Dr. Woubit S. Abdela, and Dr. Tsegaye Habtemariam, all four faculty members in the CVM’s Department of Pathobiology. 

It was just two years earlier that three of these researchers were credited with the issuing of a U.S. patent that allowed for the most time-saving method of determining food threat agents and foodborne pathogens in such items as meat, milk, and vegetables. 

“As with our previous patent, we are again advancing research in microbe detection. This time what is so unique about the discovery is not only do we save time but we also improve the accuracy of a technique by enabling the detection of viable or living organisms,” said Dr. Teshome Yehualaeshet, principal investigator for this research project funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) currently renamed as Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI). Drs. Samuel, Abdela, and Habtemariam served as the co-investigators.

FPDI is one of the Homeland Security Centers of Excellence located at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities which supports a multidisciplinary, action-oriented research consortium to safeguard the food system comprehensively from farm to table. Tuskegee University is one of the minority institutes generously funded from the FPDI. 

Dr. Francis (Frank) F. Busta, founding director and currently director emeritus for the FPDI, congratulates the research success and the novelty of the invention. Dr. Busta has supported the research at the Tuskegee University CVM and has been instrumental from the inception to the approval process of the patent.

Differentiation of viable and dead cells is an important challenge in microbial diagnostics. The two commonly used techniques for detecting viable microorganisms are culture and nucleic acid-based techniques. The traditional culture-based test is time-consuming. As well, some organisms are not easily culturable or may not even grow on a culture. Therefore, the molecular technique is rapid and it detects the presence of unique DNA sequence in the sample with a potential to identify more microbes. 

The commonly used molecular technique to detect microorganism is Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). “The main drawback of PCR is that it detects the DNA both from dead and viable organisms,” Yehualaeshet said. However, the Tuskegee University CVM researchers’ patent enables detecting only the viable organisms which saves time and increases accuracy.

“During the sample preparation for PCR, we used a safe compound which will be ideal as a routine detection protocol for the presence of viable organisms. This invention will be mainly beneficial, but not limited, to the food industry to monitor biological decontamination, disinfection or the sanitization process.” 

“Drs. Yehualaeshet, Abdela, Samuel and Habtemariam are to be commended for their scientific contributions to advance innovations in research that have led to this outstanding discovery. Once again, our researchers are continuously demonstrating that Tuskegee University has a record of accomplishments that make an impact on the world,” said Dr. Ruby Perry, dean of the Tuskegee University CVM.

To learn more about the research being done at the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, visit and

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