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New research to help eliminate most common food poisoning bug

Eliminating the most common cause of food poisoning from the food chain is the aim of new research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the world-leading UK-based poultry breeding company Aviagen.

Campylobacter is responsible for more than 300,000 cases of food poisoning a year in England and Wales and is estimated to cost the UK economy up to 600 million a year. It is usually passed to humans via poultry meat which has not been cooked or handled properly. While good hygiene and thorough cooking kills the bug, preventing it entering the food chain in the first instance would dramatically reduce the risk of infection. To this end, BBSRC and Aviagen have awarded Scottish researchers 1.3 million to map genes responsible for resistance to the bug with the view to being able to breed Campylobacter-resistant chickens in the future.

Chickens are able to tolerate relatively large amounts of Campylobacter in their guts without harm which allows the bacteria to thrive. However, some breeds of chicken are able to naturally resist the bacteria's colonisation reducing the chances of it entering the food chain. Now researchers from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, a BBSRC- funded institute, will spend the next three years mapping the genes and gene mutations responsible for increased resistance to colonisation of Campylobacter in chicken guts.

Professor Peter Kaiser, from The Roslin Institute, who will lead the study, explains: "We already know from our previous work with non-commercial birds that some chickens are able to reduce the levels of bacterium in their guts by 10-000 fold relative to other breeds. We have already identified four regions of the genome that contribute to this resistance. This new research programme should allow us to locate the actual genes responsible for this increased resistance.

"Our work offers the potential to develop a quick and targeted approach to breeding poultry that are more resistant to Campylobacter colonisation and so prevent it from entering the food chain."

Jim McAdam, Aviagen's UK Breeding Programme Director, said: "We are very pleased to have joined forces with BBSRC to be able to make this award in a very important area of food security. While steps can and are being taken to reduce the chances of Campylobacter reaching peoples' plates, this research aims to get to the very heart of the problem reducing the amount of Campylobacter in the poultry population through breeding for increased resistance to colonisation."

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "The food security challenge facing us is not just about ensuring there is enough food to feed the rising global population, but that the food we produce is as safe as possible. This new research highlights the essential role cutting-edge bioscience can play in addressing such issues."

Contact: Mike Davies
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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