HEALTHY Humans

10. Reducing Campylobacter infection in chickens

Reducing Campylobacter infection in chickens to reduce the risk of food poisoning

Research carried out at IBERS is developing solutions for Campylobacter infection, the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning for UK consumers.
Chicken is a major source of animal protein. The UK poultry market is worth around £2.5 billion with about 900 million broiler chickens processed annually. However, Campylobacter is part of the natural micro-flora of the chicken gut. Whilst it does not affect the health of the chicken, it results in severe gastroenteritis in humans, characterised by severe abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. In 1% of cases, patients also develop reactive arthritis, and more rarely can develop Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a severe neurological paralysis that can last for up to a year. In the UK Campylobacter is responsible for more than 100 deaths per annum.

Campylobacter is excreted in the faeces of chicken, and so the skin and feathers of the bird are often heavily contaminated. In addition, the caeca, (part of the gut of the bird and the major reservoir for the bacteria), are often damaged during the slaughter process. A European Food Safety Authority study showed over 80% of raw chicken meat sold to consumers in the UK is contaminated with Campylobacter.

Bacteriophage are naturally occurring viruses that infect bacteria. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Cambridge, we have characterised the genomes of several phage that infect Campylobacter to determine their suitability as control agents, and to identify novel treatments such as phage lysins that target Campylobacter. In projects with industrial partners including Natural Feeds and Fertilizers (co-funded by a Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship), and 2 Sisters Food Group Ltd, Moy Park Ltd, Wynnstay Group Plc, InQpharm, Eminate and Castell Howell Foods Ltd, (co-funded by the Innovate UK), we have undertaken feeding studies. These use novel antimicrobial compounds to reduce survival of Campylobacter in the chicken gut and next-generation genomic sequencing techniques to document the changes that occur in the gut microflora in response to these feeds.

Campylobacter is killed by cooking, and attention to hygiene in the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination via food preparation equipment goes a long way to reducing the risks to consumers. However in the longer term reducing overall levels of Campylobacterin the chicken gut itself, together with improvements in abattoir processing procedures, are needed to avoid unpleasant and potentially dangerous illness.

The Microbial Genomics Laboratory are:

  • Characterising the genomes of viruses that infect Campylobacter.
  • Identifying novel phage lysins that lyse Campylobacter.
  • Investigating the potential of antimicrobial compounds in chicken feeds.
  • Studying the microbiological flora of the chicken gut to better understand the changes in Campylobacterlevels during chicken development and dietary intervention.

For more information contact: Dr Justin Pachebat jip@aber.ac.uk

11. Healthier meat and milk

Healthier meat and milk – linking rumen microbiology and plant breeding

Diet plays an important role in the onset and development of several chronic diseases in humans, with cancer, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and obesity being obvious examples. There is a strong link between cardiovascular disease and saturated fat intake. As a result, health organizations recommend decreasing fat intake overall, and reducing consumption of saturated fatty acids whilst increasing the consumption of the long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Ruminant meat and milk are a significant source of fat and are collectively the major source of saturated fats in the human diet. However, these foods are enjoyed by many, so mechanisms for modifying the types of fat present to lower disease risk without requiring significant changes in consumer eating habits are a key goal of the industry. Despite the ruminant diet being rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, both meat and milk contain high levels of saturated fat. The microbial community in the rumen converts dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids to saturated end products. We are therefore working to increase our understanding of the transformation of dietary lipids carried out by the microbial population in the rumen with the aim of re-engineering the rumen to produce less saturated fatty acids and thus more polyunsaturated fatty acid enriched ruminant foods. Meanwhile, grass breeders in IBERS are working to produce novel grass varieties for increasing the essential fatty acid status of ruminant animals and altering the fatty acid composition and fat soluble vitamin content of ruminant meat and milk for improving human health. By selecting grasses more resistant to lipolysis and biohydrogenation in the rumen we could potentially increase the supply of essential fatty acids to the host animal and improve meat and milk quality.

We are:

  • Studying the microbial populations of the rumen and the extent to which they can be manipulated.
  • Working with meat scientists to understand the relationship between the diet the animal consumes and the fat profile of the end products.
  • Creating interdisciplinary collaborations between rumen scientists and grass breeders to drive the creation of new grass varieties that will improve meat and milk quality.

For more information contact: Dr Eva Ramos Morales evr1@aber.ac.uk

12. Increasing public understanding of frailty

Increasing public understanding of frailty in older adults and how to prevent it

Academics in IBERS Biology and Health research theme have developed a MOOC, (massive open online course), on recognising and preventing frailty in older adults. After co-authoring a systematic review of studies into the effectiveness of exercise interventions to improve balance in older adults, Dr Marco Arkesteijn has received European funding to develop the free online course.
Many elderly people notice that their balance has deteriorated and worry about falling over. Falls can have a major impact on the individual, who may break a hip for example, and require hospitalisation. Falls have been estimated to cost the NHS in the UK more than £2.3billion per year. Concern about falling is also psychologically very disabling, manifesting itself in a reduced willingness to stay active, with knock on effects in terms of physical and emotional wellbeing. This can lead to frailty, which is increasingly recognized as an important aspect to consider in the health care management of a patient.
There is clear evidence from a number of studies that simple balance exercises improve stability in older adults. Loss of balance is not an inevitable consequence of ageing. Nor is frailty, which can be prevented with healthy diet and being active. This course aims to both improve the recognition of frailty in older adults and to provide practical advice on how to prevent its onset.
The course, aimed at health care professionals and the general public, runs over five weeks and covers topics such as the difference between normal ageing and frailty, assessing frailty and how it can be prevented by diet and physical activity.

We are:

  • Working with health professionals to accelerate the transfer of research findings into clinical practice.
  • Increasing our range of online and distance learning courses to provide opportunities for continuing professional development across a number of sectors.
  • Addressing the common misconceptions that falls and frailty are a normal part of getting older, by showing that both falls and frailty are preventable.

For more information contact: Dr Marco Arkesteijn maa36@aber.ac.uk

13. Colour vision and attraction in tsetse flies

Colour vision and attraction in tsetse flies: colour engineering for optimised control devices

Tsetse flies occur in sub-Saharan Africa and their bites transmit the parasites that cause sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in cattle. After humans are is bitten by an infected tsetse, they develop fevers, headaches and joint pain. If left untreated, neurological symptoms develop and the condition is fatal. The time course of the infection varies from weeks to months in the acute form of the disease, to several years in the chronic form. No vaccines or prophylactic drugs exist to prevent sleeping sickness, and diagnosis and treatment of the disease is difficult. Consequently, trapping and killing tsetse is the only means to prevent infection, and can provide an important component of disease control. Recently developed tsetse control devices consist of a blue fabric panel to which the flies are attracted; these are impregnated with an insecticide that kills the flies when they land. In IBERS we are investigating the physiological mechanisms underlying tsetse attraction to engineer more attractive fabrics that will enhance the efficacy of control devices. Cotton dyed with ‘phthalogen blue’ has historically been found to be extremely effective as a visual bait, but the dye cannot be used on modern synthetic fabrics that are cheaper and last longer in the field. However, it has become apparent that simply choosing a blue fabric that looks identical to phthalogen blue from the human point of view does not result in high attractiveness to tsetse, because they perceive colours differently. Flies have five types of photoreceptor in their eye. We have mathematically modelled the responses of these photoreceptors to fabrics of different colours, and have used these calculated photoreceptor responses to statistically predict tsetse attraction to different fabrics in field tests. Effectively, we have taken a fly’s eye view to evaluate colour. Our models show that a tsetse’s photoreceptors contribute in different ways to attraction. When light reflected from a fabric excites some photoreceptors it makes the fabric more attractive, but when it excites others it makes the fabric less attractive. The key to engineering more attractive fabrics, then, is to ensure that they reflect light in a way that maximises excitation of the positively contributing photoreceptors, and minimises excitation of the negatively contributing ones. This can be achieved by adapting the colour engineering techniques already used to match paint and fabric colours to the human eye, and we think that it has considerable potential to enhance tsetse control devices.

We are:

  • Developing statistical models that accurately represent tsetse attraction to visual baits.
  • Using our mechanistic understanding of tsetse behaviour to formulate colour engineering recommendations for tsetse control devices.

For more information contact: Dr Roger Santer rds5@aber.ac.uk