Livingston Seeks to Enhance Natural Antibiotics in Poultry

Two researchers with two chicks

NC State University poultry scientist Kimberly Livingston and graduate student Matthew Warren are conducting research aimed at improving poultry health without using antibiotics.

Written by Linnea Nelson

With consumers increasingly concerned about antibiotics in poultry, NC State University researcher Kimberly Livingston is partnering with a feed additive and animal nutrition company to find a way to raise healthier poultry without them.

Livingston, an assistant professor with NC State’s Prestage Poultry Science Department, explains that “while trying to find alternatives to antibiotics, I’ve become curious about the ability of nutrients in a chicken’s diet to enhance the animal’s natural antibiotics.”

Livingston classifies herself as a nutritional immunologist. She investigates the way nutrients affect immune responses, and she has a particular interest in alternatives to antibiotics.

“In future research, I want to understand the mechanisms behind antibiotics working as growth promotants in poultry, because once we understand that, our ability to find alternatives will be increased,” Livingston says.

All animals, including humans, have host-defense peptides to help fight infection. When the expression of these natural antibiotics increases, so does the ability of the animal to fight diseases and pathogenic bacteria. Farmers raising free-range and organic poultry, which are more susceptible to infection, could benefit from the ability to improve their poultry’ss immunity with nutrition.

Partnering with the company Premex, she started a study on the effects of the vitamin D metabolite 1-alpha- hydroxyvitamin D3 on the expression of host-defense peptides in broiler chicks.

“I’m trying to find out if this metabolite of vitamin D, which is more readily used and absorbed in the body, can increase the expression of host-defense peptides more quickly than other forms of vitamin D or no supplementation at all,” she says.

“My goal is to provide a healthier product,” Livingston summarizes.

Through this nutrition program, consumers could gain improved food safety and affordability. Another benefit would be enhanced animal welfare, as the animal’s health will be improved.

Livingston’s project with this particular feed additive is a small component of her larger research program, which endeavors to find alternatives to antibiotics through a variety of nutritional interventions. Her research goal is to help create a future in which antibiotic-free poultry is raised with good nutrition, better animal welfare and little incidence of disease.

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