Study looks at good bacteria to reduce antibiotic use

Nearly everyone has seen the TV ads for probiotic yogurt, where a middle-aged woman eats a scoop of yogurt and it instantly cures her digestive ills.

Scientists question the health benefits of such yogurts and the accuracy of such commercials, but there’s little doubt that the billions of bacteria in the gut are critical for health in humans.

It’s the same for livestock health.

Ehsan Khafipour, a University of Manitoba scientist, thinks it may be possible to manipulate the population of bacteria that live in the guts and mammary glands of dairy cows and pigs.

In two to four years, Khafipour plans to have an injection product, loaded with healthy bacteria, which can be used to prevent infections in livestock and reduce the use of antibiotics.

“Since the discovery of antibiotics, our approach … to pathogenic bacteria has been to always kill them. We are trying to change this view,” said Khafipour, who spoke at the Agriculture Bioscience International Conference held last month in Winnipeg.

Instead of antibiotics, it may be possible to identify members of the bacterial community that are essential for good health. If those micro-organisms are present in livestock, they could suppress the pathogenic bacteria and prevent diseases such as mastitis, an infection of the udder that’s common in dairy cows.

“When we are looking at mammary glands, we are looking at an injection into the mammary system,” Khafipour said following his speech in Winnipeg.

The injection of beneficial bacteria wouldn’t be a replacement for antibiotics but could be used to restore the bacterial population following a treatment of anti-biotics.

“I’m hoping to have products that work in partner with antibiotics … prevention and fixing the community after antibiotic therapy,” said Khafipour, an expert in the microbiome, which is often defined as the microbes in a community and the genes of all those microbes.

The potential for manipulating those billions of microbes and related genes to prevent or cure diseases has received more attention in the last few years.

“A major theme in research today is a growing appreciation of the importance of microbial communities, or microbiomes, and the imperative to better understand these communities,” said University of British Columbia professor Bill Mohn, co-founder of Microbiome Insights, which is located on the UBC campus.

“These highly complex communities are critical for human health, environmental quality and…

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