Cheap and effective vaccines for poultry that will reduce infections in humans and minimize antibiotic use in the food chain are to be developed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

With project funding of GBP5.7 million (US$8.7 million) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of the United Kingdom, the award is one of three grants funded through a special scheme that offers world-leading research teams five years of funding and resources to address major challenges.

According to the LSHTM, poultry are the source of the world's most popular animal-based foods, and global production has tripled over the last 20 years. The world's chicken flock is now estimated to be around 21 billion, producing 1.1 trillion eggs and 90 million tons of meat every year.

Livestock health plays an essential role in any country’s economic prosperity but also for public health because infected poultry can pass on diseases to humans, particularly through foodborne infections from bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Vaccinating poultry is the most effective way of protecting them from disease and preventing food poisoning in humans. The most successful human vaccines that give long-lasting protective immunity are often glycoconjugates (proteins coupled to sugars). These vaccines are complex and expensive to produce but researchers at LSHTM have recently developed new glycoengineering technology that will facilitate the coupling of protein-sugar combinations for a new generation of inexpensive veterinary vaccines.

The project’s principal investigator at LSHTM is Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis.

“Developing effective, inexpensive vaccines for livestock has multiple advantages, not just in protecting animals from disease, but also in reducing infections in humans and antibiotics in the food chain that are often used in rearing livestock,” said Wren. “The BBSRC-funded proposal on veterinary vaccines will facilitate glycoengineering technology developed at the School to produce glycoconjugate vaccines that will simultaneously protect poultry against clostridia, Salmonella and Campylobacter infection and subsequently reduce the incidence of food poisoning in humans. The technology will also be used to develop glycoconjugate vaccines for cattle, sheep and goats, to protect against clostridia and coxiella infection.”