Ryan McDonald is a staff fellow at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. His research primarily focuses on characterizing the diversity of foodborne pathogens and antimicrobial resistance genes in animal foods. We recently talked with Ryan about his research. (Answers have been lightly edited.)
How did you get interested in microbiome research?
I was first introduced to microbiome research in graduate school when I conducted a study examining the intestinal bacteria of an Amazonian wood-eating catfish. I wanted to investigate whether the bacteria in its gastrointestinal tract aided in the digestion of their highly unusual wood diet. During the course of that study, I was introduced to the broader field of microbiome research which really made me appreciate the significant role microbial communities play in shaping the environment. Since then, most of my research has had some microbiome component.
Briefly describe your project as if you were talking to your grandmother. What excites you about your current research project?
Currently I am conducting research examining the microbial communities in commercial animal foods. Specifically, I am interested in identifying potential foodborne pathogens and determining whether they are resistant to antibiotics. I am also exploring methods to reduce the numbers of these pathogens using food-safe ingredients. The ultimate goal is to help improve the health of companion animals and their owners.
How does your work contribute to researchers’ understanding of the microbiome?
My current work is expanding our understanding of commercial animal foods and their potential to serve as reservoirs of antibiotic resistant foodborne pathogens. As part of this research, I am evaluating the efficacy of shotgun metagenomics to detect pathogens in what are typically highly processed products that pose many challenges in both sample and bioinformatic processing.
What song do you currently have on repeat?
Rangerover by Porches.
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