The question of why selenium is important for the survival of Campylobacter has been answered by researchers at the UK’s Institute of Food Research, and the discovery could help in ways to control the bacteria in the poultry industry and improve public health.

Campylobacter uses the organic acids produced by other bacteria in the gut to respire and thrive. It needs selenium to make the formate dehydrogenase enzyme for respiration. Researchers have identified two Campylobacter genes required for the formation of the formate dehydrogenase enzyme, but when the bacteria were supplemented with extra selenium, they were able to synthesize the enzyme again, suggesting that the two genes are involved in selenium metabolism. It has already been shown that the lack of formate dehydrogenase affects the ability of Campylobacter to colonize the chicken gut, and this latest breakthrough may open up possibilities to target this pathway for antimicrobial purposes.


In addition, as these selenium metabolism genes and the formate dehydrogenase enzyme are also present in other foodborne pathogens, it may be possible to extend such investigations to other areas of food safety. “Selenium metabolism is still poorly understood in bacteria, and its role in important foodborne pathogens such as Campylobacter is not yet fully appreciated,” said Dr. Arnoud van Vliet, who led the research group. “With the identification of these two genes essential for formate respiration, we now hope to have a tool to generate knowledge that helps us get a better understanding of what makes Campylobacter so good at colonizing the chicken gut and causing disease in humans.”