Purdue University’s Breakthrough in Antibiotic-Free Poultry Treatments


Researchers at Purdue University’s College of Agriculture are pioneering new antibiotic-free treatments to combat avian pathogenic E. coli (APEC) in poultry. This innovative approach aims to reduce the reliance on antibiotics, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

A New Bacteriophage Solution

Paul Ebner, interim head and professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, leads a team that has developed a patent-pending bacteriophage treatment. This treatment utilizes viruses known as bacteriophages, which specifically target and destroy bacterial cells, effectively reducing APEC colonization in chickens.

“The use of antibiotics to control APEC is common, but the rise of antibiotic resistance has prompted many regions to ban previously approved antibiotics in poultry farming,” explained Ebner. “Our goal is to develop technology that minimizes antibiotic use while maintaining bird health through better flock management and our bacteriophage treatment.”

Advancing Poultry Health with Bacteriophages

The research team identified seven bacteriophages that are effective against the most common APEC strains. These bacteriophages achieved a 90% success rate in lysing the tested APEC strains. When administered to chickens, the treatment significantly reduced APEC levels in the birds’ lungs and ceca without affecting their growth or performance. Additionally, the chickens did not develop immunity to the bacteriophages.

To ensure effective delivery, the team employed a microencapsulation technique. This method protects the bacteriophages from the harsh conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, such as low pH and digestive enzymes, allowing more viable bacteriophages to reach the infection sites.

Broader Implications and Market Potential

While the initial prototypes were designed for use in Pakistan and other low- and middle-income countries, the potential applications of this technology are far-reaching. A willingness-to-pay study conducted in Pakistan by Ebner and Nicole Olynk Widmar, interim head and professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, revealed that consumers are willing to pay a premium for poultry produced with bacteriophages instead of antibiotics.

“We are also working to understand and address the barriers to adopting this technology among poultry producers and animal health professionals,” added Ebner.

The Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization has filed for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect this intellectual property, signaling a significant step forward in antibiotic-free poultry farming.