Dr. Malak Esseili, Assistant Professor, Food Virology, University of Georgia, visited FAFS (November 12) to deliver the lecture: Exposing Human Norovirus Intimate Relationship with Leafy Greens. Dr. Esseili discussed Human noroviruses (HuNoV), the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis globally and the leading cause of foodborne outbreaks in the US. HuNoV infections lead to huge local and global economic loses (~ $64 billion annually), noting – as the tile suggests – that leafy greens, especially lettuce, are mostly frequently associated with HuNoV outbreaks.
Dr. Esseili shed light on some of the factors behind the intimate relationship between HuNoV and leafy greens in her investigation of the molecular ecology of the virus on leafy greens, in which she identified several factors that enhance its persistence. Notably, cell wall carbohydrates were identified as a novel mechanism that allows HuNoV to persist on the surface of leafy greens. In addition, the virus was shown to internalize through the roots into the edible leaves. Dr. Esseili’s research provides foundational and applied knowledge for better pre-harvest and post-harvest controls of foodborne viral pathogens.