Pig producers could use viruses to tackle bacterial infections

Pig producers could soon be using viruses to treat bacterial infections, if innovative new research proves effective. Prof Martha Clokie from the University of Leicester is to lead a new research project examining whether certain types of viruses could be used to treat brachyspira and salmonella in pigs.

Speaking at the Bpex Innovation Conference, Clokie explained how some viruses behave as parasites towards bacteria. This means a certain group of benign viruses, known as bacteriophages, can be used as specific and targeted treatments for certain bacteria.

In our work in humans weve been able to use certain viruses to treat the gut bacterium clostridium difficile, she said. Plus, because of the phages specificity, they can also be used to diagnose which bacteria are causing active infection.

Phages have been used to treat bacteria in this way for 100 years, but interest in this area has been revived recently because of the rise in resistance to antibiotics.

Originally, the specificity of bacteriophages was seen as a challenge and the broad spectrum of antibiotics made them the favoured option when they were discovered.

However, bacteriophages are highly specific to their host and only bind to and infect those bacteria. Because of this, they wont damage the whole flora of the gut, which makes them a valuable alternative option to antibiotics.

Clokie mentioned that, in future, they could be used at farm level or even in the abattoir to reduce contamination of carcases.

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