Probiotics might replace antibiotics for pathogen control

The way farmers and veterinarians treat sick livestock might change.   A University of Wisconsin researcher is targeting disease-causing bacteria without using antibiotics.

Microbiologist J.P. van Pijkeren PHOTO: UW-Madison

Microbiologist J.P. Van Pijkeren tells Brownfield he is using the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri to deliver an engineered virus that kills Clostridium difficile , or C. diff.  “What we’re doing is to use our probiotic as a mothership, if you like, to deliver a therapeutic load with the aim to eradicate pathogens.”  He says, “Not only in humans, but certainly also in cattle or in poultry, and there’s a lot of applications that one can apply.”

Van Pijkeren says treating bacterial illnesses in humans and livestock using engineered viruses in probiotics will reduce the need for antibiotics, and cut down on antibiotic resistance.  “Once the probiotic enters the G-I (gastrointestinal) tract, the engineered virus is released.  The virus attacks the pathogen, and we engineered the virus to have it deliver a therapeutic load to the pathogen, thereby inflicting cell death.”

Van Pijkeren says using engineered viruses in probiotics instead of antibiotics is like using a scalpel instead of a hammer to fix the problem.  More lab tests are underway, and he anticipates animal testing to begin about a year from now.

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