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Lab Aims to Make Chickens Healthier to Improve Food Safety

The chicken eggs in Prof. Shayan Sharif’s lab look like ordinary eggs, but they’re not. Some of them have been vaccinated against diseases that can cause illness in humans and have cost the poultry industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We are developing better ways of controlling microbes in chickens to stop the transmission from chickens to humans,” says Sharif, Department of Pathobiology. Microbes such as salmonella and campylobacter can cause food-borne illness in humans; avian flu outbreaks often result in culling poultry. His lab is looking at various ways to protect both chicken and human health.

One way to make chickens healthier is to boost their immune system by vaccinating them before they hatch. Sharif’s lab is investigating the efficacy of vaccines and vitamins that can be injected through the shell into the amniotic fluid. The embryonic chicks are vaccinated when they’re 18 days old and hatch after 21 to 22 days.

Shirene Singh, a PhD student in the lab, is studying tissues from chickens infected with avian influenza virus. “We’re looking for the presence of antibody-producing cells,” she says. Those cells are an indication that the chicks’ immune system is responding to the virus, which could lead to new avian flu vaccines.

Read the At Guelph article by Susan Bubak on the University of Guelph website.