Poultry is big business in South Carolina and Clemson University scientists are using nanotechnology to keep the birds and consumers healthy.
The researchers are developing drug-free ways to keep chickens and humans from contracting illnesses.
More than 200 million broilers and layers are raised in the Palmetto State. The industry has moved toward bigger broiler farms with flocks of between 150,000 and 300,000 birds becoming common.
Chickens are susceptible to disease. An illness in a handful of birds can spread throughout a facility housing thousands. Vaccines and medications can be effective but pose risks to growers and consumers. Each flock has particular health and immunity profiles, so chicks from different breeders do not respond to vaccines and diseases the same way. What’s more, bacteria can build up “antibiotic resistance” making the drugs less effective.
For consumers, poultry can harbor bacteria, viruses and fungi that do not affect them but do cause human illnesses, especially when poultry is undercooked or mishandled during food preparation.
Researchers are looking for drug-free alternatives. Clemson scientists have made a promising discovery using nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is tiny science — working with materials 1/100,000th the size of a human hair. Scientists are seeking to shrink materials down to the scale of atoms, creating particles that show promise for making better medicines, faster computers and safer foods.
Jeremy Tzeng and Clemson colleagues Fred Stutzenberger, Robert Latour Jr. and Ya-Ping Sun have built nanoparticles that mimic the host cell surface in poultry and locks to the targeted pathogens. The particles then bind together and are purged through the bowel. Tzeng calls it “intelligent chicken feed.”
"If we use this physical purging, physical removal, we are not using antibiotics so the chance of the microorganism becoming resistant to it is really small,” Tzeng said.
To protect the discovery, Clemson technology transfer officials are patenting it. Tzeng says that it will take more research and testing before the nanoparticle is ready to be used, but in the not-so-distant future, chickens and humans may live better lives due to intelligent chicken feed.