Irish Minister for Agriculture visits UW-Madison to see US side of research partnership – CALS News
Research aimed at improving pig health and advancing our understanding of beneficial viruses drew a visit from a foreign minister to the University of Wisconsin-Madison on August 18. Martin Heydon, Minister of State at the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, learned about research carried out by scientists from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and three Irish institutions as part of an international partnership. Accompanied by officials from the Irish Embassy in the United States and the Irish Consulate in Chicago, Heydon also met with an Irish Fulbright scholar conducting dairy research in Wisconsin.
At Babcock Hall, the delegation was invited into the laboratory of JP van Pijkeren, associate professor of food science and co-principal investigator of a project looking for new treatments for Streptococcus suisa bacterium pathogenic to pigs. S. am affects pigs worldwide, causing pneumonia, arthritis, skin lesions and even death.
Van Pijkeren’s partners on the project are from Queens University Belfast, University College Cork and Teagasc (an Irish research authority in the agriculture and food sectors). It is one of many projects funded by the United States-Ireland Research and Development Partnership, a three-party collaboration between the United States Department of Agriculture and its counterparts in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“This is an international collaborative effort to create an antimicrobial platform focused on S. ambut ultimately we think it can also apply to other pathogens,” says van Pijkeren.
Heydon told the UW-Madison researchers that Ireland was pleased to partner with Wisconsin for the research, adding that pork is an important agricultural product in Ireland, as it is in the United States.
According to Tom Crenshaw, professor of animal and dairy sciences at UW-Madison and an expert in swine nutrition and health not involved in the study, there is currently no effective way to prevent S. am infections.
“It’s hard to get rid of because it’s lodged in the tonsils and lymph nodes,” Crenshaw explains. He noted that S.am can also infect humans, especially farmers and others who work closely with pigs.
Antibiotics are an effective treatment, but the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has inspired van Pijkeren and his collaborators to seek alternative treatments for this problematic bacteria.
The research team is studying how bacteriophages – ‘phages’ for short – could be a solution.
Phages are viruses that have evolved over millions of years to be able to infect and even kill bacteria. Van Pijkeren says the goal of the project is to harness the power of phages to kill and eradicate S.am.
A phage can kill bacteria by releasing enzymes that break down the bacteria’s cell wall, effectively killing it. Van Pijkeren’s lab uses this concept and phage DNA to design probiotic bacteria that, like phages, would release enzymes targeting S. am. And the lab is developing a second probiotic bacterium that will provide phages, instead of enzymes, to target S. am. Phage DNA mined by van Pjikeren’s lab, which codes for enzyme production, was isolated by Queen’s University Belfast from a phage biobank collected by University College Cork and Teagasc.
After visiting the Babcock Hall laboratory, the Irish delegation met Irish Fulbright Scholar Conor Holohan at Bascom Hall. Holohan, who recently completed his PhD in animal and grassland science at University College Dublin’s School of Agriculture and Food Science, worked with animal and dairy scientist and dairy extension specialist Matt Akins at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. Holohan’s work focuses on developing an extension program to increase the adoption of pasture-feeding on dairy farms.
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