Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety
The overall goal of Martin's academic program is to develop and communicate the scientific knowledge needed to prevent and control foodborne and zoonotic diseases caused by bacteria. Current work in his laboratory focuses on microorganisms that cause a considerable number of foodborne deaths annually in the US, including Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Listeria monocytogenes causes disease in more than 20 animal species as well as a severe, but rare human foodborne disease with about 250 human deaths annually in the US alone. Salmonella also causes disease in many animals as well as a common foodborne disease in humans with approximately 1 million cases and 380 deaths annually in the US. With his training as a both a veterinarian and food scientist, Martin's programs focus on a comprehensive and interdisciplinary farm-to-table approach to food safety. Martin's academic programs thus involves the application of a variety of disciplines (including microbiology and microbial genetics, population genetics, molecular biology, genomics, evolution and modelling) as well as collaborators from many different discipline (e.g., economics, computer science, veterinary medicine, epidemiology and statistics) and from many different institutions (other universities, state health and agriculture departments, federal agencies such as CDC and USDA, as well as trade organizations). Martin also serves as co-director of the New York State Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence.
The specific objective of my research program is to develop a better understanding of the pathogenesis, ecology, evolution, and transmission of bacterial foodborne and zoonotic diseases. The pathogenesis of foodborne and zoonotic diseases can involve complex interactions between a bacterial pathogen, a variety of environments and one or multiple host species. The ability of bacterial cells to survive and compete in a variety of environments plays a key role in the pathogenesis and transmission of many foodborne diseases. In addition, selective pressures not associated with mammalian hosts may contribute significantly to the emergence and evolution of virulence characteristics related to the ability of bacteria to effectively infect mammalian hosts. Foodborne zoonotic pathogens provide ideal model systems for studying the ecology of infectious diseases, including adaptation of clonal groups to specific hosts and non-host environments as well as virulence gene expression and maintenance of virulence characteristics under widely varying conditions, including those not directly associated with a host. Current work in my laboratory focuses on two model organisms, including (i) Listeria monocytogenes, which causes disease in more than 20 animal species as well as a severe, but rare human foodborne disease with about 250 human deaths annually in the US alone; and (ii) Salmonella, which causes disease in many mammals as well as a common foodborne disease in humans (1.0 million cases and 300 deaths annually in the US). My research on understanding the biology of foodborne and zoonotic pathogens is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor. My research thus involves the application of a variety of disciplines (including microbiology and microbial genetics, population genetics, molecular biology, genomics, evolution and modelling) and collaborators from different disciplines.
Outreach and Extension Focus
My extension program has a focuses on the areas of food safety and dairy microbiology. Extension efforts in the area of dairy processing and dairy microbiology are supported by the New York state Dairy Promotion Board; this funding support two extension associates that develop and deliver extension programs focusing on production of safe and high quality fluid milk, cheese, and yoghurt and other fermented dairy products in New York State. Food safety extension efforts cut across commodities and include training as well as applied field research with dairy, seafood, meat, and produce producers as well as processors as well as retail establishments. Part of the food safety extension program also includes an annual workshop on Molecular Methods in Food Microbiology, which is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Kendra Nightingale, now at Texas Tech University.
My teaching philosophy is to use active learning to (i) teach students critical thinking skills and the ability to critically evaluate and judge information presented to them (in print, through the Internet, and orally); (ii) help student to develop life long-learning skills; and (iii) help students acquire the ability and self confidence to develop and defend their own ideas. In addition, I strive to provide students with relevant and current content in all classes I teach.
Awards and Honors
- Fellow (2014) American Academy of Microbiology
- International Dairy Food Association (IDFA) Food Safety Leadership award (2017) International Dairy Food Association (IDFA)
- Divisional Lecturer, Division P (Food Microbiology), Annual Meeting (2009) American Society for Microbiology
- International Life Science Institute (ILSI) North America Future Leaders Award (2004)
Presentations and Activities
- Introduction to risk assessments in microbiological food safety. Global Food Safety Management Program Workshop. January 2016. Sathguru. Bangalore, India.