Vet school names director of food safety laboratory

August 15, 2006

Food safety received a boost when the late Walter Renk and his wife, Martha, endowed a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

Effective Sept. 1, Charles Czuprynski, a professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Pathobiological Sciences, will become the first director of the school’s Walter and Martha Renk Endowed Laboratory in Food Safety.

For the next five years, his laboratory will receive approximately $75,000 annually, with an option for renewal based on review by the school’s research committee.

“Dr. Czuprynski’s work dovetails with the Renk’s goals,” says Daryl Buss, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. “They recognized the importance of the role of the veterinarian not only in food production but in food safety, at the farm level and beyond.”

Czuprynski plans to use the endowment to expand his laboratory’s work on listeriosis, a food-borne bacterium that causes sometimes-fatal flu-like symptoms. He plans to identify a graduate veterinarian with a strong interest in food safety who would pursue a Ph.D. in his laboratory.

The graduate student would benefit from Wisconsin’s existing collaborative project on listeriosis with North Carolina State University, the University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech and the USDA Food Safety Laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pa. This study is funded by the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security, a consortium of academic, government and industry groups with an interest in food safety. The student would also benefit from involvement with the UW–Madison Food Research Institute and others with an interest in food safety projects on campus and elsewhere.

“We’re interested in what listeriosis does in the intestinal tract,” Czuprynski says. “We’re examining virulence markers of the bacteria: What does it produce that allows it to cause disease? When it grows on a food product, does that change its virulence? What allows it to survive and disseminate throughout the body following ingestion of a contaminated food product?”

The Renks were agricultural leaders and were the first family farm to incorporate. Their family-owned Renk Seed was at the forefront of hybrid seed production, and they initially raised livestock as well. As a farm leader, Walter Renk had close ties with agribusiness, and as a UW regent was instrumental in establishing the School of Veterinary Medicine. The Renks, through their gift, wanted to ensure that the school continued to play a prominent role in ensuring food safety.