Birds-Eye View

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JohnyIn the battle for microbiologically safe and sustainable poultry production, Anup Kollanoor Johny is well-armed.

His background as a veterinarian-turned-animal-scientist taught him about different kinds of animals, including domesticated birds, he says. “As a veterinarian I can see a problem from various angles, but as an animal scientist I can focus on finding practical solutions to the problem.”

That approach helps define his research as an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science, where he focuses on alternative strategies to control pathogens such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria in poultry. Among his top concerns: multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg, an emerging cause of food-borne illness in humans worldwide.

“We still don’t clearly understand why Salmonella thrives well in poultry despite all the interventions,” he says. “It just survives. It’s a major foodborne bacterium that causes 1 million foodborne illnesses in the United States with gastrointestinal outcomes in humans.” Economic losses attributable to the bacterium are estimated at $4.4 billion per year.

“We need to find alternative solutions to control Salmonella in poultry. Using “the -omics” approach—genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, all different ways of analyzing Salmonella in its environment—is one way to discover long-term solutions," he says. However, application of information obtained through -omics technologies should be used for discovery of new alternatives against Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens, he adds. “Research using -omics technologies helps us learn why and how Salmonella is a problem in poultry production. The problem we face is that we focus on quick results, and that has not always been the case with this type of research that needs time for refinement of applied strategies.”

His research group also is studying how solutions that work in higher organisms might be translated to turkey and chicken production. “Oligosaccharide prebiotics can be used for selecting beneficial microbes (probiotics) in the gut, and they help generate natural molecules that could be very beneficial for the host species—for example, in humans it’s been proven that prebiotics and probiotics can help reduce clinical conditions such as Clostridium-difficile associated diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease. Can we refine and use such specific prebiotics and/or probiotics in poultry?”

Similarly, he’s looking at how a solution that works in one scenario might translate to another. Globally, emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has posed serious concerns. Johny’s team is exploring whether solutions to antimicrobial resistance might be found in the essential oil constituents that he has been investigating as alternative antibacterials. Essential oil constituents contain multiple active groups in their chemical structure that can provide activity against drug-resistant bacteria.

“We’re well placed to discover solutions,” he says. “Finally, it’s all about working together to find solutions to problems that we face locally and globally. “

-Becky Beyers