Clemson University researchers have shown that chickens may be made safer for human consumption by feeding them nanoparticles that have the potential to eliminate deadly bacteria.
The researchers said that their finding was significant as it might one day help axe the number of cases of food-borne diseases, and deadly form of diarrhoea.
"Our ultimate goal is to use these nanoparticles as a treatment for children in underdeveloped countries," New Scientist magazine quoted Fred Stutzenberger, a retired professor of microbiology at Clemson, as saying.
The researcher, who will publish a review of the research next month in the journal Advances in Applied Microbiology, made a microscopic ball of polystyrene, the same plastic as is used in CD cases. Threads hang off of the ball, and at the end of each one is a molecule that, to certain bacteria, looks like sugar.
According to him, e. coli, salmonella, and other potentially deadly bacteria latch onto the molecule but cannot process it, and essentially glue themselves to it.
Ultimately, dozens of nanoparticles attach themselves to the bacteria, and thereby make it very difficult for an infection to develop.
"If we can block that first interaction (between bacteria and host), then we can block an infection," said Jeremy Tzeng, a fellow researcher and microbiologist on the project.
Once the bacteria is rendered incapable of causing infection, they pass harmlessly through the digestive system and out of the chicken.
Given that the nanoparticles latch onto an area of the cell critical for triggering an infection, the researchers believe that it will be really very difficult for the bacteria to develop resistance to the nanoparticles.
The researchers also said that the nanoparticles were several hundred nanometers in size, too big to migrate out of the digestive system and into the rest of the bird. They revealed that experiments had confirmed that no nanoparticles were found in any other tissues of the chicken's body.
According to them, feeding animals the nanoparticles just before slaughter might axe the risk of contaminating the meat with e. coli or other bacteria if a worker or machine accidentally nicks open the stomach or intestine.
So far, scientists have tested their new approach in hundreds of chickens, rabbits and mice. They say that none of the creature showed any reaction to the nanoparticles.
The researchers said that their aim was to develop the nanoparticles to directly treat human diseases, specifically diarrhoeal diseases in the developing world.
"This is really an excellent opportunity to treat organisms without going through antibiotics. It has a tremendous commercial potential. I don't see any reason why it should fail if they try it in human beings," said Challa Kumar, a nanotechnology researcher at Louisiana State University who was not involved in the USDA-funded research.