Antibiotic use in pigs could be facing a major overhaul after the discovery of a ‘harmful bacteria-targeting’ therapy.
A range of 20 ’bacteriophages’, translated as ‘bacteria eaters’, have been identified by researchers at the University of Leicester as a ‘natural’ way to kill common pig infections and better develop treatment for drug-resistant human infections.
If the trials are successful in pigs later this year, phage technology could be extended for use in human medicine.
Dr Charlotte Evans, technical senior manager of AHDB Pork, which funded the research, said bacteriophages should be regarded as a natural defence because of their widespread presence in the environment.
She said the trials had ‘already yielded such promising results’.
“Bacteriophage treatment is about using increased volumes of something that is already present to target harmful bacteria,” Dr Evans said.
“Research suggests they do not harm other organisms because the relevant receptor is not present.”
Phages target and latch on to infectious agents and eradicate them by injecting their own DNA, before replicating to allow new phages to hunt and kill other infections.
RUMA secretary general John FitzGerald said the industry was upping its commitment across medical and veterinary sciences to ‘understand and reduce the spread of resistance genes in bacteria’.
He said: “Phage technology is in fact fairly old, but its development stalled because antibiotics were – until recently – very effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria.
“However, the build-up of resistance has created new opportunities for phage technology; a discovery such as this could be a real game-changer, not just helping the farming industry to steward antibiotics more effectively but potentially speeding up the development of human medical applications.”
It came as high-welfare bacon brand Spoiltpig launched the UK’s first range of gammon and bacon ‘raised without antibiotics’ produce.