If a little-known microbe called Arcobacter butzleri has contaminated the water you drink or the food you eat, this troublesome pathogen could make you sick. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever, all of which can become chronic if left untreated.

But investigations by Agricultural Research Service microbiologist William G. Miller and colleagues may speed discovery of innovative ways to control this microbe.

In 2007, Miller and co-researchers deciphered the sequence of the pathogen's genetic material, or genome. This work was a scientific "first" for any of the world's Arcobacters. Based at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., Miller did the research with co-investigators there and with others in the United States and abroad.

Since then, Miller has employed the genomic data in developing what's known as a "typing method" to differentiate A. butzleri from look-alike species, and to distinguish specific strains within those species. Medical professionals, public health agencies and researchers can use it when they're tracking the source of foodborne-illness outbreaks. In the past, for example, A. butzleri has been implicated as a cause of such outbreaks in Europe and Southeast Asia.