Flick switch to fight harmful bacteria

LINDELL BEACH, B.C. — Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed an antibiotic-free method for protecting livestock using the animals’ own regulatory system.

Animal sciences professor Mark Cook has focused on a fundamental immune “off-switch” called Interleukin 10, or IL-10.

This switch, which is located in the gut, can turn the immune system off to prevent the problems of an overactive immune system.

However, bacteria, single and multi-celled parasites, protozoa and certain viruses have learned how to manipulate the switch so that it is off while they invade the host.

This ability to activate IL-10 and shut down the immune system arose deep in the bacteria’s evolutionary past. Animal science associate researcher Jordan Sand said it is akin to wholesale piracy of the immune system.

The scientists discovered that a large group of pathogens make a chemical called macrophage migratory inhibition factor (MIF), which activates the IL-10 mechanism and shuts down the host’s immune system.

However, rather than targeting the bugs themselves, which have proven their remarkable ability to adapt, Cook said they worked on a method to de-activate the switch.

“We turn the (immune) system back on by not allowing IL-10 to turn the switch off,” he said.

The scientists vaccinated laying hens to create antibodies to IL-10. This antibody was contained inside the eggs that the hens subsequently laid.

The egg product was then sprayed on the feed of animals to be protected. The antibody neutralized the IL-10 off-switch in those animals, allowing their immune systems to better fight diseases.

“All we have done is to make some of the immunoglobulins (in the egg) specific for IL-10,” said Cook.

“The liquid or dry egg can be added directly to feed or if pelleted at a high temperature, added post pelleting. People have manipulated the immune system for decades, but we are doing it in the gut. Nobody has done that before.”

Approximately 600,000 chickens have been tested with the antibody material, and initial results have shown that they were fully protected against coccidiosis, which is a diarrhea caused by parasites.

Other tests with beef steers were also encouraging. After feeding them with the antibody for 14 days, bovine respiratory disease was halved. Larger trials are planned.

Similar results were found when testing newborn dairy calves after they were fed the antibody for 10 days.

The treated calves also showed less shedding of the protozoa that causes diarrhea.

“These diseases cause long-term reproduction, production and growth impairments in livestock,” said Sheila McGuirk, professor of medical sciences at the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

“To have something affordable, safe and non-antibiotic that controls these very important diseases is absolutely awesome. We are eager to study this further.”

Trials are already underway.

“We have commercial chickens testing or using the product at different levels/scale,” said Cook.

“We have tested 150 calves. This is new territory, and so far in this micro-environment we are seeing no side effects.”

Research will benefit producers because significantly more people working in conventional chicken farms carry multidrug-resistant pathogens than those who work in antibiotic-free farms.

One of four patents filed through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has been granted, and the foundation also awarded a $100,000 Accelerator Program grant to the inventors to pursue the antibiotic-replacement technology.

Cook and Sand have formed a company, called Ab E, to expand the broiler product.

“I think it will enter the market from several angles,” Cook said.

“Poultry is now there. The cattle product (is coming) any time.”

He said his new product probably isn’t the last word on resistant bacteria. “They will always evolve a way to defeat your drugs,” he said.

“Will the bugs find new ways to increase IL-10 and turn the switch off? Probably, but it may be a very long time from now. So far there has been no evidence they have other tricks.”

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  • Small Flockers

    Obviously, the CAFO factory farmer will make more profit and avoid risks when he dodges the bullet of natural consequences that arise in CAFO factory farms through the proposed use of IL-10 antibodies in the farm animal’s feed.

    However, those CAFO farm animals eventually become food for human consumption. Feed mills and farms have employees that will be exposed to these IL-10 antibodies as they manufacture or handle these medicated feeds.

    Like bacteria, antibodies love to spread out into the entire world. I assume it will be the same with IL-10 antibodies.

    Throughout Canada, 30% to 80% of raw chicken meat sold at retail meat counters are contaminated with bacteria and other pathogens from the digestive tract of the chicken. If IL-10 antibodies are fed to farm animals, it is only a matter of time before humans get dosed with IL-10 antibodies.

    What will the impact be on humans from cross-contamination of human food with IL-10 antibodies, and the metabolically different foods that are created from this continuous medicating of IL-10 antibodies to the farm animals?

    Since the start of CAFO factory farms in the 1950’s, there has been a growing number of human epidemics, with rapidly increasing incidence and prevalence rates for human auto-immune diseases, such as Addison’s disease, Celiac disease, Sprue (gluten-sensitive enteropathy), Dermatomyositis, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Multiple sclerosis, Myasthenia gravis, Pernicious anemia, Reactive arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren syndrome, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Type I diabetes, and many others.

    Has this been just a spurious co-incidence between the start of CAFO farms and auto-immune diseases, without causal linkage? I suggest nobody knows for sure.

    What have these IL-10 researchers done to test for, detect, and prevent the IL-10 antibodies from reinforcing these numerous human auto-immune epidemics, or making them a far worse plague for humans during the next 50 years?

    Auto-immune diseases affect a small fraction of the population. That means that the full epidemiological impact of IL-10 antibodies will not be easily determined. Unscrupulous business interests will be easily able to muddy the water, distract, and deny the true effects of IL-10 for many decades due to the significant yet non-mainstream effect of IL-10 antibodies on humans.

    Today, the symptoms suffered from auto-immune diseases are so bad, some people purposefully infect themselves with serious parasitic diseases and other pathogens that can naturally switch the IL-10 off, thereby minimizing the ongoing, progressive damage that their auto-immune disease causes them. What will these people do when they are inadvertently dosed with IL-10 antibodies that quickly spread through the human food system from unintended consequences of keeping CAFO factory farms viable?

    Rather than enabling CAFO factory farms, would the world be a better place if the researchers went back to their lab and developed an “anti- antibody” for IL-10, so that humans suffering from an auto-immune disease can switch on their IL-10 in a sufficiently regulated manner so as to put their auto-immune disease into permanent remission?

    Have these IL-10 researchers been sufficiently prudent, and done their due diligence? Alternatively, are they too impatient to get to their million dollar private benefits, while the public is thrown to the wolves to suffer any unknown, unintended, collateral risks, and other damages that may be discovered too late. Once these potential consequences start, they will likely be difficult to get stopped.

    Remember, it took 13 years to discover the possible impact of DDT in the environment in spite of its wholesale destruction on thousands of species, and more than 50 years to somewhat recover from the use of DDT. For antibiotics fed to farm animals, it has been 75 years to fully realize the consequences of our negligent actions in the creation of SuperBugs, Frankenstein meats from CAFO farms, and antibiotic resistance (still a work in progress). For cigarettes, it took 470 years to discover the clear and obvious link between smoking, lung cancer and a host of other diseases; with 60 years of ongoing denial by the millionaire benefactors of smoking, all while 1/3 of smokers die from their smoking habit.

    Maybe I worry for nothing. The IL-10 researchers and businesses who will soon be millionaires may have already fully tested all of these risk scenarios using double-blind, long term experimentation in the lab and in the real world, and proven beyond any and all reasonable doubt that none of these risky scenarios could possibly occur. In that case, sure, let’s do these IL-10 antibodies.

    However, if all of that prudent homework hasn’t been done, perhaps the Precautionary Principle applies, and we need to do more research before releasing this IL-10 antibody into the innocent, trusting, and unprotected world.

    Glenn Black, President
    Small Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada


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