Scientists develop alternative to antibiotics for farm animals

With “superbugs” a “ticking time-bomb” for animals and humans, scientists are set to commercialise an alternative to antibiotics for farm animals in disease prevention. 

The News Hub - MRSA bacteriaDrug-resistant infection in humans and animals is causing increasing public concern. Microbes adapt to create “superbugs” such as MRSA when repeatedly exposed to antimicrobial medicines, particularly bacteria when exposed to antibiotics. Weak bacteria are killed and resistant bacteria thrive and multiply.

Convinced that antibiotic medications are not viable long-term, University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Animal Science Professor Mark Cook has been researching an alternative treatment since 2011.

His work has focused on how pathogens, including bacteria, shut down the body’s immune response by producing a chemical that manipulates the protein Interleukin 10 (IL-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine.

Although manipulating the immune system is not a new technique, Cook’s research is the first to look at altering IL-10 in the intestines.

Cook, and animal science associate researcher Jordan Sand, successfully disabled IL-10 in the intestines, allowing the animal’s anti-inflammatory response to fight the intestinal disease coccidiosis that they had previously been susceptible to.

In this study, hens were vaccinated to produce antibodies to IL-10. Their eggs carrying the antibody were then sprayed over feed given to other chickens, a more commercially viable method to protect large numbers of birds than vaccination.

In experiments on 300,000 chickens, those fed the antibody were found to be protected against coccidiosis.

Coccidiosis can be fatal, especially in young chickens. Birds are infected by oocysts in bird droppings with painful symptoms including diarrhoea and weight loss, as well as internal bleeding.

Results from IL-10 intervention have also been promising in initial low volume tests on beef steers. University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Dan Schaefer and graduate research assistant Mitch Schaefer fed steers the IL-10 antibody for 14 days and during this period, the rate of bovine respiratory disease was halved.

Considering the threat to human health from antibiotic overuse and resulting infections that cannot be treated, this new alternative treatment is significant.

Resistance can spread from animals to humans through the food chain or by direct contact. Jordan Sand notes that people working in conventional chicken farms are much more likely to carry multidrug-resistant pathogens than workers in antibiotic-free farms.

The need for antibiotic control and alternative treatments has never been more pressing. The commercial product that will be developed from Cook and Sand’s research will start to address this need.

Read the full article at Nature in Mind

Image: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. Credit: NAID on Flickr. Creative Commons attribution license



The following two tabs change content below.
Tracy is a freelance writer with special interest in scientific research and news on wildlife, the environment, animal welfare, and mental health. Follow my 'Nature in Mind' blog at and Twitter @TracyBrighten1

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Blue Captcha Image