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Specified pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter are the major agents for food-borne illnesses and cause an estimated 1 000 deaths each year in Europe. Flocks of intensively raised chickens often carry these infections, which can be passed with chicken meat and eggs on to humans. Chicken feed has been routinely dosed with antibiotics to control infections but the bacteria rapidly mutate into resistant strains. Developed countries now limit the use of antibiotics so that they remain effective in treating human infections.

Project profile

Bacteriophages offer new hope for treating poultry infections, as they have been shown to kill bacteria in poultry intestines and in their eggs. They multiply as they consume their host, so they spread rapidly. Phagevet-P is evaluating how good ‘phages’ are at fighting infection, in two series of tests on small batches of live birds in Portugal and the UK, with expert advice from a Russian group. It will then see whether the birds yield infection-free poultry products fit for human consumption. The method would be suitable for use worldwide.

International aspects

Finding alternatives to antibiotics to protect chickens against infections is an issue of growing global concern. Phagevet-P is a European-led multinational effort to examine the effectiveness of phages at fighting infections.

Socio-economic significance

Phagevet-P will have the following long-term socio-economic impact:

  • It will help antibiotics to remain effective in treating human infections
  • It will develop new types of animal feed
  • It supports the EU’s farm-to-fork policy for safe food
  • It helps to ensure the future of poultry production in Europe
  • It will contribute to animal welfare.

Scientific significance

The project will contribute to the following scientific areas:

  • Proof of the principle that phages can suppress Salmonella and Campylobacter infections in small flocks of poultry
  • Investigating if phage protection of live birds from infection provides poultry products free of contamination with Salmonella and Campylobacter
  • Investigation of the possibility of development of phage-resistant pathogens
  • Knowledge of environmental effects of widespread use of phages
  • The effects of stomach acid on phages administered orally
  • Development of models of infection and curing processes.

Project outcomes

  • The establishment of a promising method for preventing bacterial infection of food that could be cheaper than other antibiotic-free alternatives
  • The selection and production of highly lytic specific phages
  • Establishment of effective phage administration to live poultry
  • The development of a sampling and detection protocol
  • Preparation of larger trials involving hundreds of birds
  • New research knowledge and techniques
  • New business and export opportunities.

Basic project information

  • Acronym: Phagevet-P
  • Full project title: Veterinary phage therapies as alternatives to antibiotics in poultry production
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Starting year: 2005
  • EU funding: €675 000
  • FP6 instrument used: Specific Targeted Research Project
  • Project coordinator:
    Joana Azeredo
    Universidade do Minho Portugal
  • Third country partner(s) involved:
    State Institute for Genetics and Selection of Industrial Microorganisms (Russia)
  • Project website:
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