A study from the Roslin institute published in BMC Genomics has identified genes in chickens that could offer resistance to harmful bacteria commonly found in poultry and could inform ways to limit the risk of associated food poisoning in people.

The research identified a large number of genes in chicken guts that may determine whether the birds are resistant to Campylobacter, according to the Roslin Institute.

Campylobacter causes an estimated 1.5 million illnesses each year in the United States. People can get Campylobacter infection by eating raw or undercooked poultry or eating something that touched it. They can also get it from eating other foods, including seafood, meat and produce, by contact with animals and by drinking untreated water. Although people with Campylobacter infection usually recover on their own, some need antibiotic treatment. 

Specifically, Campylobacter jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis in humans and the handling or consumption of contaminated poultry meat is a key source of infection. Selective breeding of poultry that exhibit elevated resistance to Campylobacter is a possible control strategy, scientists say.

Researchers studied the global transcriptional response of inbred chicken lines that differ in resistance to C. jejuni colonization at a key site of bacterial persistence. The insights from this study could inform research toward breeding chickens that are less likely to carry Campylobacter bacteria, and so limit the risk to poultry consumers. 

Campylobacter is present in more than half of chicken sold, representing a significant risk to consumers, and breeding poultry resistant to the bacteria is one potential way to tackle this,” said Mark Stevens, Ph. D and Personal Chair of Microbial Pathogenesis at the Roslin Institute.  “Our research is shedding light on how the genetic makeup of chickens influences their response to the bacteria, which could inform ways to breed poultry resistant to Campylobacter and thereby improve food safety.”

Researchers tested the effects of Campylobacter infection on chickens that were bred to be resistant or susceptible to the bacteria. Analysis of gut tissue showed differences in activity of a large number of genes, including some involved in immunity, such as Major Histocompatibility Complex and antimicrobial peptides. The variation between these genes in susceptible and resistant chickens may partly explain their response to Campylobacter.

For more information about Campylobacter, please go here: about-campylobacter.com. 

The Roslin Institute is a world-leading institute for animal science research and is part of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh.

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