Genetic insights could help tackle Campylobacter

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 Aviagen, investigated the genetic make-up of 3,000 broiler chickens, 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.

“Here, we looked for regions of the chicken genome that are associated with resistance to the bacterium,” said Professor Mark Stevens, Personal Chair of Microbial Pathogenesis, Roslin Institute/ “Our data indicates that there is low genetic basis for resistance to Campylobacter colonisation and also show that non-genetic factors play a more significant role in carriage of Campylobacter in chickens. In addition, the regions of the genome associated to resistance to colonisation were highly prevalent in the chicken line studied.”
“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.” said Dr Richard Bailey of Aviagen.

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