A biotechnology firm has been awarded a research grant worth more than £500,000 - as part of an industrial consortium to develop a natural solution to a disease that results in paralysis and painful bone deformities in poultry.

The wider aim of the project is to improve welfare, and reduce feed usage and food waste, resulting in fewer carbon emissions.

The Innovate UK grant, worth £514,000, will fund a two-year research project, which aims to improve the productivity and sustainability of the UK and global poultry sector without relying on antibiotics.

Arden Biotechnology, based at Lincoln Science and Innovation Park, and Avara Foods, one of the UK’s largest poultry producers, are working together to develop the solution.

Research for poultry sector

Dr. Joseph Brown, research director at Arden Biotechnology, said:

"The bacteria we are looking to control is naturally present in healthy chickens, but in some cases, the bacteria get to where they normally aren’t and form cyst-like growths within the spine resulting in paralysis.

"This paralysis means the birds can’t feed or drink and unfortunately die from dehydration or starvation unless there is an intervention.

"Previously, antibiotics, now largely banned from the food chain, kept this avian pathogen - Enterococcus cecorum - under control.”

According to the World Health Organisation, feed accounts for 78% of greenhouse gases (GHG) in poultry production.

In reducing the amount of pathogenic bacteria that are associated with poor feed-conversion ratio, birds are able to gain weight in a more efficient manner. This means that less feed is consumed to achieve target weights.

Dr. Brown added: “So the natural solution we are researching would support the agricultural transition to a net-zero-carbon-emission industry through reduced feed usage, reduced food waste and improved welfare.”