NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh have landed a £1.3 million ($2.1 million) grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the poultry breeding company Aviagen to study genes in chickens that may be useful in understanding food poisoning.
The Roslin Institute researchers will use the grant to fund a three-year study to map genes and gene mutations that may be responsible for increased resistance to the colonization of Campylobacter in chicken guts.
Campylobacter causes more than 300,000 cases of food poisoning each year in England and Wales at a cost to the UK economy of up to £600 million per year, according to BBSRC.
Chickens generally are able to tolerate large amounts of this pathogen in their guts without harm, which enables the bacteria to thrive, but some breeds are naturally able to resist the bacteria's colonization, which lowers the chances that it will enter the food chain and make its way to people. The bacterium usually finds its way to humans because the chicken was cooked or handled improperly.
The researchers hope that identifying genes involved in resistance to this colonization will enable industry to breed poultry with that resistance and reduce the amount of Campylobacter in the food system.
"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 colonization," Jim McAdam, director of Aviagen's UK breeding program, said in a statement.
"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," said Peter Kaiser, a professor at the Roslin Institute, and who is leading the study. "We have already identified four regions of the genome that contribute to this resistance. This new research program should allow us to locate the actual genes responsible for this increased resistance."