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Bacterial Proteins Combat Campylobacter

By Sharon Durham
April 28, 2004

Proteins from harmless microorganisms can reduce Campylobacter and other pathogenic bacteria in poultry intestines, a team of Agricultural Research Service and Russian scientists has discovered.

ARS microbiologist Norman J. Stern of the Poultry Microbiological Safety Research Unit in Athens, Ga., used the proteins, called bacteriocins, to reduce Campylobacter numbers in bird intestines by 99.999 percent in small research trials. Large research trials will be necessary to determine if the technology is commercially feasible.

According to Stern, this is the first treatment used in the last 25 years to achieve a significant reduction of Campylobacter in research trials on chickens.

The bacteriocins reduce the numbers of Campylobacter by a millionfold when fed to chickens. Bacteriocins could provide an effective alternative to antibiotics the poultry industry uses to control pathogenic bacteria.

Foodborne bacterial infections are responsible for billions of dollars of economic losses in the United States and worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrheal illness in humans in the United States. CDC has identified poultry as the primary vehicle for its transmission to humans. Controlling Campylobacter in poultry would reduce public exposure to the bacteria.

Preliminary data indicate bacteriocins may be effective in reducing other foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli. The patented technology to utilize the bacteriocins is available for licensing for commercial development.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.