Turkey Germs Could Lead to New Antibiotics

Nov 26, 2014

  Some of the turkeys raised for your Thanksgiving dinner can resist common infections – and that’s helped scientists at Brigham Young University to a discovery that could lead to new treatments for disease in people. 

Turkeys raised on poultry farms are susceptible to an infection called synovitis that causes pain in the joints.  But BYU microbiology Professor Rich Robison says some turkeys don’t get it, thanks to a unique strain of a germ called staphylococcus epidermidis.

Robison tells KUER, “Turkeys that were colonized with this particular bacterium did not have the problems with rampant staph infections due to another species called staphylococcus aureus that is a more pathogenic species.”

BYU Professor Marcus Jensen discovered 30 years ago that the bacteria called Strain 115 was making a natural antibiotic.  His work led to vaccines that are now routinely used in turkeys.  After that, the discovery sat on the shelf until Robison and Professor Joel Griffitts used modern research methods to determine just how Strain 115 can make that substance without hurting itself. They’ve published their work this month in the Journal of Bacteriology.

Robison says there is still much work to do before the discovery can be used for new drugs for humans.  But he says it has the potential to be an effective treatment for germs that have become resistant to other antibiotics.