Research spotlight on Dr. Erin DiCaprio: Viruses and food safety


Dr. DiCaprio's research program focuses on produce safety related to foodborne viruses, control measures for foodborne viruses, and food safety risks associated with emerging viruses. Currently, her lab is engaged in projects investigating norovirus-bacteria interactions in foods and hepatitis E virus prevalence in the US.

As interest in the human microbiome increases, the study of enteric virus and microbiome bacteria interactions has emerged as a new field. Several studies explored the interaction between enteric viruses, such as norovirus, poliovirus, and rotavirus, and the human gut microbiome. Recent evidence indicates that norovirus binds to specific bacterial species and this interaction allows the virus to infect host cells in vitro. The plant phyllosphere contains a diverse population of bacteria with numbers reported as high at 108 CFU/g. Dr. DiCaprio is working to establish the relationship between native phyllosphere bacteria and norovirus. Likely, norovirus interactions with phyllosphere bacteria are a contributing factor that influences the stability and persistence of the virus in produce. Understanding these interactions can facilitate the control of produce outbreaks associated with viruses.

Hepatitis E virus in an emerging foodborne virus, with increased disease incidence observed in Europe. Hepatitis E virus is the only known zoonotic foodborne virus, with swine serving as a natural reservoir. To date, few studies have investigated the prevalence of HEV in the US swine populations or the food supply. Dr. DiCaprio is working to assess HEV prevalence in pasture raised swine and feral swine populations in CA. In addition, her lab is currently conducting surveys of pork products available at retail for the presence of HEV. These results will aid in the determination of whether hepatitis E virus is an emerging foodborne pathogen of concern in the US.