Poultry is an affordable source of high quality protein and globally the most consumed meat. However, there are challenges that the poultry industry faces in terms of food safety issues associated with Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni). C. jejuni is the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis in the United States. Approximately 80% of the human C. jejuni infections are associated with poultry; thus, the continuing growth of poultry production puts increased pressure on the poultry industry to control C. jejuni contaminate in poultry. 

Principal investigator Dr. Li Zhang, Mississippi State University, was recently awarded funding by USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation to utilize molecular techniques to identify possible vaccine candidates for C. jejuni, aimed at reducing the bacteria in living poultry. 

Dr. Li commented, “Effective control of C. jejuni through sustainable, proactive vaccines will allow for enhanced safety of poultry products, decreased production costs and ultimately provide a safe, affordable, high quality source of protein to feed the world’s growing population.”

Why Is There an Immediate Need for This Research? 

Current on-farm intervention measures may have limited effect or are hampered by economic aspects and consumer acceptance. Because there is a consumer push to remove antibiotics from poultry production (due to fear surrounding antibiotic resistant pathogens), alternative methods to control this organism are needed. These issues and concerns have led to a variety of strategies for vaccine development. However, despite many encouraging studies, there is currently no commercial vaccine available to reduce C. jejuni colonization in poultry. This is due to cost and labor requirements that are substantial, as well as variations in bacterial strains and the technical limitations associated with previous vaccine design approaches. 

New technology (i.e.; next-generation sequencing) to be employed within this research may be the answer to the flaws associated with traditional vaccine development. Harnessing this technology led to the novel idea of using genomic information to discover unique antigens that had previously been missed by traditional vaccinology methods.  

Innovativeness

Genomic technologies are expected to play a key role in vaccine research, offering revolutionary tools for the identification of surface associated proteins and virulence factors. The information from complete bacterial genome sequences provides a comprehensive inventory of all potential candidate antigens. This will allow mining of the bacterial blueprint and discovery of novel antigens. Many candidates will be identified at this stage, and then a biological analysis and a rapid non-animal test model will be utilized to prioritize the most promising potential vaccine candidates. This innovative approach will guide and optimize the identification of protective antigens much quicker and at a reduced cost compared to traditional methods.

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What Can We Expect?

This research will provide crucial information for development of efficient vaccines against C. jejuni. The novel vaccine development approach applied in this research has a much faster turnaround time than conventional vaccine production methods and can be completed at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, innovation applied in this study may be generally used in vaccine development against other disease-causing agents. Data produced will provide effective pathogen contamination management to help the poultry industry produce a safer, more affordable product for consumers. Further, findings will help control C. jejunithrough vaccines, while decreasing the subsequent use of antibiotics on farm, as well as address the global consensus to reduce the emergence of antimicrobial resistance. Ultimately, the research will not only benefit the poultry industry but will also protect human health. 

Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Pratima Adhikari stated, “These research findings will provide us with an opportunity to understand one more step on the intervention strategies on common food-borne pathogen, C. jejuni. Vaccine strategies against C. jejuni are limited by an incomplete understanding of its pathogenesis and development of immunity. The comparative genomic analysis method that will be used in this study will help to predict the antigens that are most likely to be efficient vaccine candidates. The overall outcome will be beneficial for the poultry industry to improve poultry safety by reducing C. jejuni contaminants in meat and poultry supply. We would like to thank the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association for providing this great opportunity.”

Benefits to All Sectors of the Poultry Industry

Availability of efficient vaccines will help safeguard our poultry supply by reducing the concentration of pathogens that are known to cause foodborne outbreaks. Reduction of the bacterial contamination of the food chain and the environment will not only benefit the poultry industry but also provide a level of protection to human health. Having the means to control pathogenic contamination through sustainable vaccines will make poultry products more readily available worldwide and contribute to the farm to fork concept of food safety and supply.

“We are pleased to support this research and look forward to the results. The utilization of genomic technology and reverse vaccinology offers a promising opportunity to focus on targets for vaccine development,” remarked Dr. Denise Heard, USPOULTRY director of research programs.