12 July 2006
A team of researchers, including UCL's Professor Ian Charles (UCL Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research) are working on a new project which could potentially lead to the eradication in livestock of salmonella, a disease which can cause food poisoning in humans.
The team, comprising food science and animal health experts, will assess the role of every salmonella gene as it infects cattle, pigs and chickens. This fundamental understanding of the salmonella virus should help in the development of animal vaccines, and reducing the amount of salmonella bacteria passed to humans by infected animals.
Food poisoning in humans often results from the consumption of salmonella infected meat and diary products. It is hoped that this by reducing the ability of the bacteria thrive, the incidence of human infections may be reduced and the health of the animals improved. Treatments developed for livestock may then also be suitable for use in humans against typhoid fever and salmonella food poisoning. Bacteria of the species Salmonella enterica cause millions of bouts of gastric illness and thousands of deaths each year worldwide. Researchers believe that the number of cases of salmonella poisonings may be underestimated, with the actual figure approaching hundreds of millions.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have awarded funding to three institutions for the study. Research teams will be headed by Professor Duncan Maskell, the Marks & Spencer Professor of Farm Animal Health, Food Science and Food Safety at the University of Cambridge, Dr Mark Stevens at the Institute for Animal Health, Compton, and UCL's Professor Charles.
By identifying the genes that enable the bacteria to infect the host animal's intestinal tract, the team will understand how some salmonella strains can infect certain animals and not others, and why some infections remain in the gut but some spread. Professor Charles and Professor Maskell have invented a new method for identifying disease-related genes. In previous work, the genomes of many salmonella strains have been sequenced, but the function of only a fraction of the genes is understood. This technique is an improvement on current approaches as it can detect rapidly and using the minimum number of animals whether or not a gene is required during infection.
The team stated: "The outcome of this project will be that we can identify and assign roles to all Salmonella genes required for the infection of food-producing animals. We hope that this will lead to novel vaccines or treatments to reduce gastrointestinal diseases in animals and humans."