Hormone released by stressed chickens could be key to combating Campylobacter - study

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food poisoning Bacteria

The release of a hormone at times of stress could be key to understanding why some food poisoning bacterium become more invasive in animals after transportation, a new study has said.

The research by the University of Bristol, England, examined the behaviour of Campylobacter in chickens. They found the animals released higher levels of hormone noradrenalin when under stress which actually helps Campylobacter and Salmonella grow and spread more quickly.

Increased virulence

A further finding from the study said Campylobacter can interact with other organisms in the gut of food animals, making it even more invasive. The results of the research provide vital information to enable the control of infection in the production environment, making chicken safer and decreasing cases of food poisoning, said a statement from the group.

The study, led by Professor Tom Humphrey, built on other research demonstrating that after transport levels of bacteria like Campylobacter are higher in the gut of food animals than on the farm. Previous data has found that food poisoning bacteria can show up to a tenfold increase in terms of concentration in the guts of animals and a doubling of the numbers infected following transportation, he said.

Hormone release

Researchers from the university’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Science attempted to simulate typical transport conditions for animals on their way to slaughter as other studies on bacteria such as Campylobacter have been “traditionally carried out in conditions which may not reflect the production environment”.​ After studying almost 800 flocks, the group said it discovered the proliferation of the bacteria may be associated with the release of the stress hormone noradrenalin.

“The noradrenalin allows the organism to obtain higher levels of iron, which is a transport mechanism for the bacteria that allows it to grow more quickly,”​ Humphrey told FoodProductionDaily.com. “The research is looking at the effect immediate environment has on animals. We are trying to understand the mechanism in the animals that makes this happen and, in doing so, mitigate them to lessen the impact of bacteria like Campylobacter.”

Examine whole supply chain

He added: “We need to look at this problem throughout the whole food chain to establish the best economic conditions to farm and transport animals. Conditions have improved but some transport issues which could be examined in future are duration, temperature and stocking density​.”

The research had been done in full partnership with animal producers and retailers, he said because they recognized it was in their interest to produce the healthiest animals possible.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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