Poultry vaccine research receives £5.7m grant from BBSRC

Research into developing a cheap and effective poultry vaccine has been awarded a £5.7 million grant by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 

The vaccine, to be developed at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, hopes to reduce infections in humans and minimise antibiotics in the food chain.

Infected poultry can pass on diseases to humans, particularly through foodborne infections such as salmonella and campylobacter. The vaccine project will utilise glycoconjugates (proteins coupled to sugars), however they are complex and expensive to produce but School researchers have recently developed new glycoengineering technology that will facilitate the coupling of protein/sugar combinations for a new generation of inexpensive veterinary vaccines.

Project principal investigator Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the School, said: “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.

“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.”

According to the School, poultry are the world’s most popular animal-based food and global production has tripled in the past 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.

The poultry vaccination scheme was one of three projects funded by the BBSRC Strategic Longer and Larger grants (sLoLas) scheme, with grants totalling £13.9m. The other beneficiaries were a project to manage the nitrogen economy of bacteria (£4.5m) and re-releasing natural variation in bread wheat by modulating meiotic crossovers (£3.6m).The projects were chosen by BBSRC based on their scientific excellence; because they required long time-scales, extensive resources; and because they involved internationally leading research teams.

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC chief executive, said: “The BBSRC sLoLa scheme gives extra time and resources to world-leading UK scientists, so they can address major scientific challenges.

“The funded studies include work to breed new varieties of wheat, improve the supply of biological nitrogen to plants and to create safe and cheap vaccines for poultry.

“As well helping the UK and the world to meet these challenges and offer economic and social benefit, the projects will develop the world-leading research capacity of the UK.”

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson added: “From better vaccines for livestock to growing higher-yield crops, government is investing in these long-term projects to help the UK’s world-leading scientists find innovative and sustainable solutions that will boost food production across the country.”

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