Massey University’s Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory (mEpiLab) is located within the Hopkirk Research Institute on the Palmerston North campus and is jointly led by Dr. David Hayman and  Dr. Jackie Benschop. Professor Nigel French is the executive director.

mEpiLab develops and applies epidemiological and evolutionary models to understand the sources and pathways of human infection from animal and environmental sources and to inform control strategies.

mEpiLab, together with the EpiCentre, is recognised by the World Assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as a Collaborating Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health. Collaborating centres provide scientific expertise and excellence in specific designated fields of competence. They are consulted by the OIE to provide specialised input, advice or opinion.

Our expertise 

mepilab-lab.jpg Our work has led to a significant drop in the rates of foodborne disease in New Zealand. We have expertise in epidemiology, microbiology, molecular biology, bioinformatics/computational biology, mathematical modelling, veterinary science and public health. The pathogens we commonly work with include:

Escherichia coli

Our work contributes towards the control of Escherichia coli O157 and other Shiga toxin-producing E coli (STECs) in the food chain. We are part of the FRST- and industry-funded Improved Pathogen Control Technologies programme, a collaboration between Environmental Science and Research, AgResearch and Massey. It includes studies into phage control and quorum sensing. Two mEpiLab PhD students are working on epidemiological studies of the transmission and propagation of STECs at meat-processing plants and along the food chain .


We have considerable expertise in Campylobacter culturing, geno- and phenotyping, and assessment of pathogen survival. We have developed a world-renowned body of work with source attribution modelling of this very common pathogen in New Zealand. This programme, funded by the Food Safety Authority within the Ministry of Primary Industries, the livestock industries, the Health Research Council and the Royal Society Marsden fund, has advanced understanding of the epidemiology, evolution and emergence of Campylobacter and contributed to a dramatic decline in human cases.


We are adept at culturing and genotyping Leptospira. We work with the Epicentre at Massey on epidemiological studies aimed at the prevention and control of infection in abattoir workers and evaluate the use of vaccine-based control measures in animal populations. 


We’ve been developing and optimising surveillance systems for Salmonella in humans and animals using advanced molecular and spatial modelling tools. We’ve developed modular process risk models that capture the propagation of Salmonella during slaughter and along the food chain, and we’re collaborating with the Enteric Reference Laboratory at Environmental Science and Research on a national study to assign human cases to potential mammalian and avian sources of infection.

Cryptosporidium and Giardia

Our protozoal team runs molecular genotyping and infectivity assays for these pathogens (funded by Ministry of Health). Our work includes screening isolates from surface and ground water, including waste water from meat processing plants, and the assessment of catchments used for the supply of drinking and recreational water. 

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

We helped to design the first national survey of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in livestock species, which was conducted in 2009, and we have also conducted smaller surveys for the pork and poultry industries. We are collaborating with medical colleagues to establish a programme of work characterising the multidrug-resistant bacteria (such as ESBL-producing Gram negatives and MRSA) in companion animals, and we’re studying the links between drug-resistant bacteria in people, their pets and their environments.

Learn more about our staff, location and associated groups.


Preventing disease from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli

The pathogenic bacterium E. coli O157:H7 and other non-O157-related Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STECs) can cause serious human illnesses including diarrhoea, haemorrhagic colitis, and haemolytic uraemic syndrome. They are of great concern to the global food industry. Human STEC infections have increased in New Zealand with 128 cases recorded in 2010.

mEpiLab PhD student Patricia Jaros is studying the ruminant reservoir for these bacteria. Although ruminants shed STEC in their faeces, very little is known about the levels of STEC pathogens entering the food chain via slaughtered livestock. A two-year study across four abattoirs showed that a higher proportion of bobby calves (4–7 days old) were shedding E. coli O157:H7 and O26 than adult cattle. Calves from high- and low-risk farms were followed to investigate the effect of transportation and holding in yards before slaughter on the level of carcass contamination. 

To estimate the proportion of human cases associated with exposure to STEC from cattle, the E. coli strains isolated in these studies have been genetically typed and will be compared to E. coli strains from human cases. A case-control study will provide better understanding of the sources of human illness and investigate whether cattle are a significant source of human STEC infections.

This research is providing valuable epidemiological data that will help to assess the risks to consumers of red meat produced in New Zealand and target future control strategies for protecting human health.

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