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$4.6 million for two projects targeting the overuse of antibiotics in poultry production

Québec City, June 10, 2019 – The overuse of antibiotics in animal production and the consequent proliferation of multidrug-resistant bacteria are a major global public health problem. Today Université Laval professors Sylvain Moineau and Ismaïl Fliss received two research grants totaling$4.6 million for projects aimed at finding alternatives to antibiotics in the poultry industry in Kenya and Tunisia.

The funding was obtained through the Innovative Veterinary Solutions for Antimicrobial Resistance program, a joint initiative of Canada's International Development Research Centre and the United Kingdom's Department of Health and Social Services. Professors Moineau's and Fliss's initiatives are among the 11 international projects selected under this program.

Bacteria-killing viruses
Sylvain Moineau, professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering and researcher in the Oral Ecology Research Group (GREB), received$2.9 million to study the effectiveness of bacteriophages as an alternative to antibiotics in controlling Salmonella in poultry farms in Kenya.

«Bacteriophages, known more simply as «phages,» are viruses that fight bacteria,» explained Professor Moineau. «Their bacterial target range is much more specific than that of antibiotics. Phages also have the advantage of evolving at the same rate as the bacteria they target, which reduces the risk of long-term resistance.»
During the three-year project, Moineau and his colleagues at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya will test the effectiveness of phages from Université Laval's phage collection—one of the largest in the world—and phages collected from Kenyan farms. After identifying the most effective phages for eliminating various strains of Salmonella, the researchers will develop an effective phage administration system tailored to the needs of the Kenyan poultry industry.

Salmonella is a leading cause of food poisoning worldwide. In subsaharan Africa, it affects 3.4 million people each year and causes 700,000 deaths. Antibiotics are widely used on poultry farms to treat or prevent Salmonella infections, but 75% of them are released into the environment, which fosters resistance to antimicrobial drugs.

Bacteria to fight bacteria
Ismaïl Fliss, professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences and researcher at the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods (INAF), received$1.7 million for the ANTIBIOCIN project, which aims to identify bacterial cultures whose bioprotective properties could serve as alternatives to antibiotics in Tunisia's poultry industry.

«Certain strains of bacteria are able to produce a variety of antimicrobial compounds, including bacteriocins, substances that allow them to eliminate or inhibit the growth of other, competing bacteria,» explained Professor Fliss. «If we could supplement animal feed with an ingredient containing bacteriocins that target pathogenic bacteria, we would have an effective and inexpensive alternative to improve animal health and promote growth while significantly reducing the use of antibiotics in animal production.»

Over the three-year research project, Fliss and his colleagues from Canada, Tunisia, France, and Spain will identify various bacterial strains that produce bacteriocins and select those that are likely to be most effective against harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, which cause the vast majority of food poisoning cases. The researchers will also aim to develop ecoresponsible industrial processes to mass-produce food ingredients containing bioprotective bacterial strains and bacteriocins.

«The knowledge and products generated by our project will have a huge direct impact not only on Tunisia and Canada but also on other countries, particularly in Africa, where excessive use of antibiotics in livestock farming is a major public health problem,» said Professor Fliss.

Jean-François Huppé
Media Relations
Université Laval