PulseNet Timeline

Before PulseNet

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    • 1993 – E. coli O157:H7 causes a major outbreak in the Western US states.
    • 1994 – CDC and several state health laboratories demonstrate the utility of PFGE for detecting and investigating outbreaks of foodborne disease.
    • 1995 – The concept of PulseNet takes shape in discussions between CDC, the Association of Public Health Laboratoriesexternal icon (APHL), state public health laboratories and federal partners.
    • 1995 – CDC provides $150,000 to PulseNet to conduct an initial project demonstrating its effectiveness.


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    • PulseNet detects an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Colorado linked to frozen ground beef from a Nebraska processing plant. Twenty-five million pounds of potentially contaminated ground beef are recalled.
    • CDC establishes the Epidemiology Laboratory Capacity (ELC) building program. This program funds public health laboratories to join PulseNet.
    • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’sexternal icon (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) laboratory joins PulseNet.
    • The National Food Safety Initiative is established, detailing how $43.2 million is to be used to strengthen food safety in the US.  PulseNet becomes one of the first CDC-established networks that this initiative supports
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    • 1998 – PulseNet is honored by the Vice President of the United States at a White House ceremony.
    • 1999 – PulseNet wins the Innovations in American Government Awardexternal icon, recognizing excellence and creativity in the public sector.
    • 2000 – PFGE analysis software is provided by APHL to all existing PulseNet laboratories allowing the creation of organized databases.


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    • 2001 – PulseNet becomes a nationwide system: all 50 state public health laboratories are trained and certified in PFGE.
    • 2002 – PulseNet wins the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award for the second time.
    • 2004 – CDC pilots the Listeria Initiativepdf icon[PDF – 2 pages] in 10 states to aid in the investigation of listeriosis clusters detected by PulseNet, decreasing the time from detection to stopping the outbreak.
    • 2005 – Manufacturers introduce the first commercially available next-generation DNA sequencing system. Next-generation sequencing technologies will shape the future of PulseNet and accelerate outbreak detection.
    • 2005 – PulseNet integrates multiple locus variable number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) as a genotyping tool for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica serotype Typhimurium.
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    • 2011 – PulseNet begins analyzing data using bioinformatics, which combines biology, computers, and information technology in a single discipline to answer pressing public health questions.
    • 2011 – 250 historic isolates of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) are sequenced to prove the utility of whole genome sequencing for surveillance of foodborne pathogens.
    • 2011 – Congress passes the FDA Food Safety Modernization Actexternal icon (FSMA) and directs CDC to expand national foodborne disease surveillance systems.
    • 2013 – PulseNet scientists begin using whole genome sequencing methods, along with enhanced disease investigation, to study foodborne illnesses caused by Listeria.
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    • 2014 – CDC launches the “Transforming Public Health Microbiology – PulseNet and Beyond” project under the Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) initiative, which aims to consolidate most foodborne pathogen identification and characterization activities into a single, fast, and efficient whole genome sequencing process.
    • 2014 – The Listeria whole genome sequencing study, that began in 2013, receives the Department of Health and Human Servicesexternal icon (HHS) Innovates Secretary’s Pick award for implementing an innovative strategy to address an emerging public health challenge.
    • 2015 – The Listeria study receives the CDC Director’s Award for Innovation
    • 2015 – CDC routinely uses whole genome sequencing for investigating foodborne illnesses caused by Listeria, Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and Salmonella.
    • 2016 – Whole genome sequencing is used for routine surveillance of Listeria, Campylobacter, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
    • 2016 – PulseNet can analyze Salmonella whole genome sequencing data to investigate outbreaks.
    • 2016 – The American Journal of Preventive Medicine publishes an economic evaluation that suggest that PulseNet prevents at least 270,000 illnesses from Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria and saves $500,000 US dollars every year.

Future of PulseNet

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    • 2017 – Whole genome sequencing will be used for routine surveillance of Salmonella in states that have the capacity to conduct sequencing.
    • 2017 – PulseNet will be able to analyze Vibrio and Shigella whole genome sequencing data.
    • 2018 – PulseNet will be able to analyze Yersinia and Cronobacter whole genome sequencing data.
    • 2018 – All 50 state public health laboratories will be using whole genome sequencing for routine surveillance.
    • 2018 – Whole genome sequencing will become the new PulseNet gold standard for subtyping pathogens that cause foodborne illness.
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    2020 and beyond
    • PulseNet will use highly sophisticated approaches designed to identify and subtype foodborne pathogens directly from complex clinical samples, without bacterial cultures. The favored approach, known as metagenomics, has the potential to allow extraction of pathogen-specific DNA sequence information directly from complex samples such as stool.