Dr Lucia (Lucy) Rivas is a Senior Scientist in the Health and Environment group. Lucy earned her BSc Applied Science from Queensland University of Technology and her honours and PhD through the University of Queensland where she undertook her research projects in food microbiology with CSIRO, Brisbane.
Prior to joining ESR, Lucia worked as a research officer at Teagasc in Dublin, Ireland where she investigated the use of biocontrol agents such as bacteriophages and antimicrobial peptides to control Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in the meat processing chain.
At ESR, Lucy leads research projects that spans a variety of food safety issues encompassing disease-causing bacteria such as Listeria, STEC and Yersinia. Lucy provides scientific support for New Zealand Food Safety and the Ministry for Primary Industries which helps to safeguard public health for New Zealanders and provide food safety assurances for the export market. As an example, research is ongoing on Yersinia, a pathogen that has a high rate of human infection in New Zealand compared to other developed countries, but the sources of infection in New Zealand are unclear. Lucy and the team are working towards improving the laboratory methods used to detect this pathogen in foods. Better methods will help identify the food sources contributing to human illness and therefore interventions to minimise the pathogen in these sources can be implemented.
Lucy is also interested in the use of next-generation sequencing technology to advance the way pathogens are tracked and characterised throughout the food chain. This rapidly evolving technology can be used to generate the whole genome sequence of bacterial isolates which in turn can be used accurately identify sources of contamination of foods or human illness. A commercial service for whole genome sequencing is also available at ESR.
Lucy is also applying sequencing technology to research projects funded by the New Zealand Food Science Safety Research Centre(external link)(external link). As an example, a research programme focusing on food safety risk management of Listeria is underway. Although rare, Listeria can cause very serious disease and can become persistent in the food manufacturing environment. Within this project, a database with genomic information of Listeria from various sources has been created. The data is also being used to understand how Listeria has evolved in New Zealand so that new strains can be detected. Insights into how Listeria becomes resistant to chemical and antibiotics are also being explored.