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Researchers targeting chicken-related food poisoning

Deakin University scientists are working on a way to eradicate a bacteria in chickens that’s responsible for more than a million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year.

More than four million Australians suffer from food poisoning each year, with the Campylobacter pathogen responsible for over a quarter of these cases. There are many sources of Campylobacter, with a key one being raw chicken meat.

Two molecular biologists from Deakin’s School of Medicine, Dr Tamsyn Crowley and Dr Sarah Shigdar, have been awarded a Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation grant, valued at more than $1 million, to try to reduce Campylobacter from chickens.

Over the next three years, the two will investigate new ways to suppress the growth of Campylobacter in chickens prior to processing, and are confident they can find a solution.

Most often found in chicken, Campylobacter are one of the four most common causes of food poisoning, along with Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria. Sufferers experience gastroenteritis symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

The project leader, Dr Crowley, said that while more than four million Australians were reported to suffer food poisoning each year from various pathogens, the actual number was likely to be much higher as many milder cases are never reported.

“Our research will focus on using nanotechnology to kill Campylobacter before it can cause problems in humans,” Dr Crowley said.

“We will be looking at very small molecules that can be used to bind substances to specifically target bacterial growth. It doesn’t matter exactly how the growth is suppressed, whether we paralyse the bacteria or prevent them from absorbing nutrients, or through some other means. This leaves us many possibilities to achieve our goal.”

Dr Crowley said once the most suitable molecule has been identified, researchers could focus on devising the best way to deliver these into the poultry, either through water or food, which will take place in the few days before the chickens are processed.

 

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