Leena Maunula's research group

Food and En­vir­on­mental Vir­o­logy

The prevalence of human viral pathogens in food, water and other environmental samples (diagnostics, molecular epidemiology and genetics).

Research group leader Docent Leena Maunula
Professor Emeritus Carl-Henrik von Bonsdorff
LVM Maija Summa
LVM Satu Oristo

Prior members: Maria Rönnqvist (defended her dissertation in 2014), Tuija Kantala (will defend her dissertation in 2017), Kirsi Söderberg (research assistant).

As research methods related to viruses that multiply in the intestinal tract and cause diseases in humans develop, the significance of viruses as the cause underlying food- and waterborne outbreaks has become evident. Norovirus outbreaks originating, for example, in contaminated household water or frozen raspberries, cause suffering to people and sizeable financial losses to society. Every winter at hospital wards and other facilities, noroviruses spread especially among the elderly. Risk assessment, control and legislation-related decision-making require knowledge of the tolerance, occurrence and spread of viruses, which, in turn requires constant updates for controlling and preventing outbreaks. More experts specialised in viruses are also needed. We participate in the development of virus detection methods suitable for food and environmental samples (analysis services).

Viruses that multiply in the intestinal tract causing diarrhoea or hepatitis in humans are the focus of research in food hygiene and environmental health. Detecting these viruses in, for example, water and food is very challenging and requires continuous development of methods. In our research, we utilise both the latest gene amplification methods and traditional cell culture methods. In laboratory conditions, the tolerance of viruses to different circumstances, different types of manipulation or, for example, disinfectants can be measured in a controlled manner. With the help of high-sensitivity methods, virus occurrence is charted and concentrations are measured in the environment and food, as well as, to some extent, animals. We have detected noroviruses in natural water and found parts of the norovirus genome in frozen raspberries, worktops in food establishments and hand samples.

Research is conducted in close cooperation with research groups working abroad. This makes it easier to determine the international routes of food and sources of contamination. Our focus is on viruses present primarily in humans only. One exception is the hepatitis E virus whose presence in swine and wild boars, as well as its spread via insufficiently cooked pork are among the Department’s research subjects.