Bacterial infections in livestock commonly require daily antibiotics, which infect the milk and meat the animals produce. Consumption of the by-products can lead to antimicrobial resistance in humans. The World Health Organization said by 2050 there may be more deaths as a result of this resistance than any other disease.
A startup from Canada is using synthetic biology to develop solutions to this pending health crisis. Bacteriophages are viruses that only infect bacteria, and Cytophage is growing natural phages through genetic processes.
“As the world continues to overuse antibiotics, there are significant repercussions, such as the emergence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria, nicknamed super bugs — those nearly impossible to treat infections that no one antibiotic or combination of antibiotics can cure,” Cytophage said.
For decades, scientists have known that bacteriophages work well at getting rid of bacterial infections, but antibiotics were a more attractive treatment because of their ability to be patented.
Bacteriophages also haven’t hit mainstream medicine because they are difficult to find organically. Only one bacteriophage is able to infect one specific bacteria and kill it, so to find a certain phage in nature could take months or years, according to Dr. Steven Theriault, CEO of Cytophage.
Theriault’s synthetic biology background supported his development of a genetic template process for the bacteriophages. He told DairyReporter that natural phages have to be grown in the bacteria they are going to kill, or risk toxic contamination. Cytophage grows its phages in a yeast system.
The team created a chicken product to tackle E. coli problems in chicken barns, which is currently testing in third party trials. Cytophage is also working on applications for cows and pigs, and while direct human treatments would be ideal, Theriault said getting into the human health field is an expensive and complicated process that will take time.
Cytophage is freeze-drying the bacteriophages onto animal feed in high doses treatments, and they can also be used in disinfecting sprays to clean barns and cages. Theriault presented at the FoodBytes! pitch competition in Chicago this week, and has been involved in previous FoodBytes! events.
He considers the process a great opportunity for meeting potential investors, and said it has already connected him to helpful and knowledgeable people in the agriculture technology industry that he would not have met otherwise.
Theriault said there is now a handful of other companies in the market trying to replicate the Cytophage genetic template, and that he expects more people to get involved as they learn about the technology. Overall, he believes synthetic biology is the next ‘science of the world.’
“With these new companies coming forward and everybody sharing the information, we will be able to tackle this crisis a lot more quickly and more effectively than if we were just doing it by ourselves,” he said.