“Producers want a consistent product. We as consumers want a consistent product,” Latour says. “By having so much variation in the pigs, we can’t have that consistency in products.”
Paul Ebner is also searching for consistency in animals, specifically animals that do not contain food-borne pathogens, such as salmonella, that are harmful to humans. He says there are more than 76 million cases of food-borne illness each year in the United States.
“We try to come up with different therapies or treatments to eliminate the pathogen in the animal before it’s processed,” Ebner says. “If you do that, you minimize the possibility of that food product becoming contaminated.”
Ebner’s method involves feeding animals bacteriophages, which are microscopic organisms that target harmful bacterial cells. The bacteriophages don’t harm the health of the animal or humans.
“They don’t recognize human cells. They only impact bacteria,” Ebner says. “This is a natural process. We’re taking something that happens in nature all the time and harnessing that anti-bacterial property.”
Tests have shown that the bacteriophages, when fed to pigs within days of processing, can eliminate 90 to 99 percent of salmonella. Several treatments over the life of a pig would all but eliminate the bacteria that sicken humans.
“If at each of these different stages, you can eliminate salmonella by 90 to 99 percent, by the time the food product gets to the consumer, the risk is negligible,” Ebner says.
Preparing for the Future
Animal scientists are hoping to continue their research efforts in a new building on campus. A proposed life sciences and agricultural research facility would include space for animal science laboratories, offices and classrooms, which are limited in current facilities.
Karen Plaut, associate dean of Purdue Agriculture and director of Agricultural Research Programs, says a new facility would put Purdue in a better position to address serious challenges facing the world in the coming years. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to surpass 9 billion people, and it is believed food production capabilities would need to more than double to meet the need.
“Animals will be part of the solution, and animal scientists can help us develop new ways to supply food for the world,” Plaut says. ”However, the facilities and equipment are well beyond their useful lifetime. New, modern facilities will allow our scientists to deliver the most creative solutions to address issues that can impact human health, agricultural production and animal well-being.”
Sutton says that a new facility would position Animal Sciences to continue its leadership in several research fields. “We have had a legacy of being a very strong department for Purdue over the years, with that impact reaching stakeholders across the state, nation and world.”
Contact Brian Wallheimer