Dr. Cooper’s research is One Health based and involves an interdisciplinary approach encompassing the various food industries, numerous researchers from different disciplines, and federal regulatory agencies to solving challenging global food safety issues. The Cooper laboratory’s research focuses more specifically on the genomics, pathogenesis and epidemiology of various bacterial foodborne pathogens. Dr. Cooper earned his doctorate degree at the University of Arizona (UA), post-doctorate researcher at UA, post-doctorate researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, and an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge for 4 years, prior to returning to UA as an assistant professor in 2017.
Global food safety is a critical One Health issue, as the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally there are an estimated 600 million foodborne infections every year, resulting in 420,000 deaths from eating contaminated food. In the U.S. there are an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illness per year (i.e., one out of every six people are sickened). Many foodborne pathogens can cause years of chronic health complications or sequelae after acute infection (e.g. reactive arthritis, kidney problems, neurological disorders, and post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS)). In children, chronic diarrhea caused by these pathogens is associated with growth stunting, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Foodborne diseases cost the global economy billions of dollars in added healthcare costs and lost work production. In the U.S. over half of these infections are linked to the produce industry, as fresh produce tends to be consumed raw, which eliminates the critical pathogen control step of cooking. To decrease the global burden of foodborne illness we need critical improvements in food safety; however, constant changes in the food industry and an increase in globalization of food supply are serious challenges to food safety. The ultimate goal of my research program is to improve food safety for U.S. consumers, food security around the world, and ultimately improve global health. Broadly, the Cooper laboratory’s research focuses on the genomics, pathogenesis and epidemiology of various bacterial foodborne pathogens to help improve global food safety Specifically, the Cooper laboratory’s research is focused on using cutting edge molecular and bioinformatic methods to address current and future food safety challenges. In particular, my research provides the food industry with cost effective, applicable, and rapid solutions to numerous public health challenges, but also supports public health agencies, policy makers, and the general population. My research program centers around three key themes: (1) Investigating and exploiting the role that agricultural microbiomes have in food safety; (2) Improving detection of food contaminated by pathogens, clinical diagnostics, and outbreak source tracking using highly accurate whole genome sequencing (WGS) methods; (3) Identifying novel virulence factors involved in the pathogenesis and post-infectious complications (sequelae) of Campylobacter. To address these themes my research has a multi-disciplinary approach to the connection between people, animals, plants and the environment (One Health), which allows me to address food safety issues by collaborating with veterinarians, plant biologists, bioinformaticians, epidemiologists, medical doctors, extension specialists, science communicators, microbiologists, and various members of the food industry.