Research – Genetic insights could help tackle food bug

Roslin

Scientists have identified regions in the genetic makeup of chickens that are linked to resistance to Campylobacter  ̶  the leading bacterial cause of food-borne gastroenteritis worldwide.

Data obtained in the study inform the extent to which parts of the chicken genetic code can be linked to the prevalence of Campylobacter in the chicken gut.

A study led by researchers from the Roslin Institute, in collaboration with the poultry breeding company Aviagen, investigated the genetic make-up of 3,000 chickens bred for meat, to discover whether parts of their genetic code were associated with resistance to Campylobacter colonisation.

This was achieved by looking for variation at specific positions in the chickens’ genome and their association with numbers of Campylobacter in the gut of the birds.

Scientists combined this with analyses of the expression of genes in chickens that were resistant or susceptible to colonisation by the bacteria.

All the chickens were naturally exposed to Campylobacter present in their environment, which mimics how chickens are exposed on a commercial farm.

Campylobacter infections are common in people, who can develop diarrhoea and severe complications after handling or eating contaminated chicken meat.

Each year, it is estimated that more than 500,000 people in the UK are infected, costing the country approximately £50 million.

These results show that whilst there are genetic factors that influence Campylobacter colonisation, these factors play a minor role and therefore it is crucial to characterise and understand the role of the non-genetic and environmental factors to further reduce Campylobacter levels in poultry.

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