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Egg whites may help scientists crack problem of poultry infections

Scientists have found proteins in egg whites could be used to fight infections that cost the chicken industry billions of pounds each year.

Researchers from The Roslin Institute, at The University of Edinburgh, have discovered that these recently-identified proteins have properties that could be harnessed to combat bugs such as E-coli.

The research focused on a family of proteins whose function had until now been unknown.

It was previously known that many proteins in egg whites have bacteria-fighting properties, but this group of proteins offers the potential to create anti-microbial treatments which could be used as an alternative to traditional antibiotics.

These could be used to treat infections among poultry, and improve the sustainability of food production. It is even possible that the proteins might be used to create treatments to fight infections in humans.

The researchers have named the group of proteins ovodefensins.

This family of proteins was found to be specific to birds but has not so far been discovered in other species that lay eggs, suggesting that these have either evolved in birds to fight certain infections or that other species may have lost the genes as they evolved.

It is not surprising that egg white can fight bacterial infection as the egg as a whole has evolved to protect the developing embryo. The challenge now is to look at harnessing how we can use these proteins to help fight infections in poultry flocks.

Ian Dunnexpert on avian biology at The Roslin Institute

The research, funded by the European Union, has been published by the journal BMC Immunology.

The researchers are now analysing the effectiveness of these proteins in fighting infections.