Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US have decoded the gene sequence of a strain of the food-poisoning bacteria campylobacter in a bid to help reduce the presence of the microbe in raw chicken.

Campylobacter is thought to be the leading cause of food poisoning worldwide. The research represents the first time that a campylobacter jejuni strain from a farm animal - in this case, a market chicken - has been sequenced. Chicken is the leading source of this bacterium in food.

ARS scientists in Albany, California, and their colleagues at The Institute for Genomic Research, Rockville, Maryland, have decoded the sequence, or structure, of all of the genes in a specially selected campylobacter jejuni strain.

Investigations of these C. jejuni genes may lead to the discovery of faster, more reliable ways to detect the microbe in samples from food, animals, humans and water.

Furthermore, the research opens the door to simpler, less-expensive tactics for distinguishing look-alike species and strains of campylobacter and its close relatives, so that culprit microbes in food poisoning outbreaks can be identified more quickly.

ARS is the US Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.