WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — Purdue University’s College of Agriculture announced on July 8 that it continues to develop patent-pending, antibiotic-free treatments for avian pathogenic E. coli (APEC).

Paul Ebner, interim head and professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, and his team developed a bacteriophage treatment that effectively reduces APEC colonization in treated chickens. The treatment contains multiple bacteriophages, viruses that infect and replicate only on bacterial cells.

“APEC is often controlled through antibiotics, but the continued emergence of antibiotic resistance has led several countries and regions to prohibit many types of previously approved antibiotic uses in poultry production,” Ebner said. “We believe that the use of our treatment, along with good flock management, can significantly reduce the need for antibiotics in maintaining bird health.”

Ebner described the goal of the project to create technologies that could reduce antibiotic use in animals raised for food in low- and middle-income countries.

During the research, Ebner disclosed the bacteriophage APEC treatments to the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization, which has applied for a patent from the US Patent and Trademark Office to protect intellectual property.

While developing the treatment, Ebner’s team isolated seven bacteriophages that showed activity against the most prevalent APEC variants.

“Taken together, they lysed 90% of the APEC strains we tested,” Ebner said. “When given to chickens, the treatment results in significant reductions of APEC in the treated chickens’ lungs and ceca. Additionally, the treatments do not negatively impact growth or performance, and the birds do not develop an immune response to the phages.”

The team used a microencapsulation process to allow oral delivery of the treatment. According to information provided by Purdue, microencapsulation protects the bacteriophages from harsh environments in the gastrointestinal tract, including low pH levels and digestive enzymes, and allows more viable bacteriophages to reach the sites of infection.

Prototypes for the project were developed for use in Pakistan and other low- and middle-income countries, but the teams have much wider applications. Ebner and Nicole Olynk Widmar, interim head and a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, conducted a willingness-to-pay study in Pakistan.

“The results showed consumers will pay premiums for chicken produced with bacteriophages instead of antibiotics,” Ebner said. “Additionally, we are working to identify barriers to adoption among poultry producers and animal health professionals.”