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Lettuce surveillance. Photo: Valery Matytsin\TASS via Getty Images

New research suggests that synthetic bacterial spores programmed with DNA barcodes could be used to track objects through a supply chain.

Why it matters: Each year, there are an estimated 48 million cases of food-borne illness in the U.S., causing 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The technology could make it easier to trace a product's path from supplier to customer in the event of food-borne contamination.

Background: When authorities see evidence of an outbreak of a food-borne illness like E. coli, they need to quickly identify the contaminated food and trace it back to its source.

  • Given the length of supply chains — and the fact that one head of industrial lettuce looks much like the rest — that can be incredibly challenging.

What's happening: Researchers led by Jason Qian at Harvard Medical School developed a means of tagging items with synthetic spores that contain a unique DNA barcode.

  • The barcode, which is programmed with about 38 DNA base pairs, can indicate where an item originated, aiding any investigation.
  • Unlike UPC barcodes physically attached to packaging, the DNA barcode is encased in a tough spore and sprayed on a product. It can persist in diverse ecosystems within the item, ensuring it will survive from farm to table.
  • To read the barcode, researchers merely need to extract DNA from the product and run a detection assay on it.

Of note: If it feels weird to think about eating lettuce with engineered spores attached to it, know that we consume microbes with our food all the time — including phages sprayed on meat to prevent bacterial contamination.

The bottom line: The newest frontier of surveillance is the supermarket.

Go deeper... The future of dining: shorter menus, pricer food, less service

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.