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    Early disease detection and monitoring in Farm and Field


    The preliminary research to be carried out by this research team within the proposed project relies on the use of SPME-GC-MS technology to capture and identify unique volatiles released through the metabolic activities of Campylobacter in infected poultry and in poultry shed environments. In order to determine these unique volatiles, technical aspects (set-up,training, calibration of the SPME-GC-MS) will first be required. Determination of the lowest detectable levels of known Campylobacter-associated volatiles will then be investigated using pure cultures of Campylobacter alone and in the presence of a range of different 'background' materials (e.g. culture media; bedding material; etc.) and at different stages of growth (rapidly growing; stationary phase; death phase; dead cells). Screening for Campylobacter-associated volatiles in chicken and other poultry faecal material (using confirmed Campylobacter-positive and Campylobacter-negative samples) will also be conducted. The unique volatiles identified by SPME-GC-MS will then be used to optimise the e-nose and reevaluated using pure cultures, faecal/bedding samples and air samples.


    Campylobacter is the most frequently reported food-borne pathogen associated with human illness in the UK and Europe. In the UK over 460,000 cases of campylobacteriosis are reported annually, leading to over 22,000 hospitalisations and tragically over 110 deaths, with a cost to the UK government of over £1.5 Billion. Given the acknowledged role of poultry, particularly broiler chicken, as the major vehicle of human infection, early detection of Campylobacter status would allow early intervention and would contribute to improvements in Public Health. If the targets set by the FSA were met, the level of infection in humans would be reduced by 50% - a reduced cost to the UK government of £0.75 billion. It is clear from this information alone that UK consumers, the UK government, the UK Food Standards Agency (and other funding bodies such as Defra) and the UK poultry industry would all be potential beneficiaries (either directly or indirectly) from the successful funding and implementation of this research project.

    The UK poultry industry is actively pursuing opportunities to investigate strategies and interventions which may offer a combined solution (rather than a single "magic bullet"). Under current EU legislation where there are no currently approved/effective interventions to reduce Campylobacter during processing, knowing the disease status of flocks prior to slaughter would enable poultry processors to schedule positie flocks to the end of the slaughter window to eliminate crosscontamination. Being able to accurately pinpoint the onset of detectable disease within flocks would also enable farm/area mangers to identify potential links to day-to-day farm activities and biosecurity practices, with a view to modifying practices. Looking to the future, where certain processing interventions may be implemented (such as rapid surface chilling), knowing the Campylobacter status of flocks would allow processors to "turn on/turn off" interventions as required, rather than keeping them "turned on", potentially resulting in cost savings. Proactive use of the technology being proposed in this application (in conjunction with other approaches) could also give poultry companies a competitive advantage in the retail market.

    Funding Body

    BBSRC & Innovate UK

    Lead Organisation

    RoboScientific Ltd.


    Harper Adams University, Cellular Systems Ltd. and Banham Poultry Ltd.

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