Antibiotics are routinely used in agriculture to prevent and treat infection. However, past practice of antibiotics use has caused some bacterial resistance, to certain drugs, that has seen a rise in antimicrobial resistance. In fact, the World Health Organization has identified antimicrobial resistance as one of the top 10 greatest and most urgent global risks. Antimicrobial resistance is driven not only by the overuse of antibiotics in people, but also in animals, especially those used for food production.
A $6.9 million research project, funded by Genome Canada and Genome British Columbia, aims to use genomic tools to develop alternatives to antibiotics using antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) — naturally occurring proteins produced by various animals and plant species. There is evidence that AMPs are an effective alternative to conventional antibiotics and, potentially, bacteria are less likely to develop resistance.
Dr. Inanc Birol, a scientist at BC Cancer’s Genome Sciences Centre and a professor at the Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia (UBC) will use this funding to scale up previous proof-of-concept work funded through Genome BC’s Sector Innovation Program. “We are building on many years of groundbreaking genomics research enabled by Genome Canada, Genome BC and other partners,” says Dr. Birol. His work has already identified new AMPs that are effective against a range of bacteria while demonstrating a computational approach that was faster and more effective at isolating new AMPs. Typically, discovering AMPs from natural sources has used methods that are time-consuming, expensive, and labour intensive.
Dr. Birol and his team aim to identify 10 effective and safe AMPs that will be tested in chicken eggs for protection from major infectious diseases. The team will also conduct an in-depth analysis of the economic, ethical, and regulatory issues related to using AMPs in agriculture, and will assess the opinions of stakeholders from the farming and food industries as well as the general public.
“Antimicrobial resistance threatens to send us back to a time when even the simplest of infections could be lethal,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome BC. “AMPs have strong potential to reduce or even replace the use of conventional antibiotics in the agricultural sector, maintaining economic productivity, while benefiting both animal and human health.”
BC researchers will co-lead two additional projects announced by Genome Canada today. One project co-led by Drs. Amro Zayed, York University and Leonard Foster, UBC, will use ‘omic’ tools to develop a new health assessment and diagnosis platform to identify causes affecting the declining health of honeybees. The other, co-led by Drs Paul Stothard, University of Alberta, Ronaldo Cerri, Director, UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre, Christine Baes, University of Guelph and Marc-André Sirard, Université Laval, aims to use genomic tools to develop new datasets and genomic tools in order to develop a more ‘resilient’ cow — one that can adapt to changing environmental conditions, without compromising its productivity, health or fertility.