Using Chicken Feed In The War On Superbugs

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming a huge threat. Although scientists have long speculated that antibiotics in animal feed foster the evolution of these superbugs, farmers have been loath to stop using drugs. Not only do antibiotics protect animals from disease, they also seem to promote growth, so farmers can deliver animals to market quicker.

Now, there's a new option from Mark E. Cook, an animal scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has found an antibody that strengthens the immune system, thereby reducing the need for drugs--without slowing growth. Cook's research with chickens shows that antibiotics actually don't spur growth. They just preclude a side effect of the bird's immune system: Invading bugs trigger white blood cells to release chemicals, called cytokines, that suppress the appetite.

To block this process without impeding the immune system's ability to battle disease, Cook has created a special molecule that mops up the cytokines. When his compound is added to chicken feed, birds grow just as fast as those getting antibiotic-laced feed.