Poutry Probiotics: A Powerful Weapon in the Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance

The present COVID-19 epidemic and previous outbreaks of new deadly flu strains, such as swine flu and bird flu, are believed to have jumped from livestock to humans. In an age of intensive farming, animal health and high standards of vigilance on farms is vital to human health. That's why scientists are developing new methods and technologies to monitor and enhance animal health.

Dr Ron Dixon from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, in collaboration with Arden Biotechnology, is currently developing a novel biocontrol product - a phagebiotic for farm poultry to fight a disease which costs the industry $6 billion a year. Their work is part of the international fight against a global antibiotics crisis, which some authorities estimate could lead to 10 million more human deaths per year by 2030.

The poultry disease – necrotic enteritis – which affects the gut, develops when low levels of antibiotics are removed from the feed. However, there is growing pressure to stop this method in the face of a rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) transfer to humans.

The Lincoln team is working with the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China to develop a new phagebiotic (a novel mix of bacteriophage and probiotic) that would stop the disease in its tracks. They are currently investigating whether a reversion to good gut health in poultry, through the use of their phagebiotic, can help stop the over-use of antibiotics in the poultry industry.

The consortium was awarded a £1.5 million award from the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Fund (GAMRIF) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), managed by Innovate UK. The award is funded as part of a UK-China collaboration by GAMRIF and the DHSC to reduce the threat of antimicrobial resistance working together with the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in China.

The funding is aimed at finding replacements for antibiotics fed to food animals, thereby preventing the emergence and transfer of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to humans from poultry products.

The development of antibiotics has been vital to improving human health for the last 80 years. Yet the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans is threatening to make them ineffective in the future, and this is something we must consider when thinking about animals and our wider environment as well.

Dr Ron Dixon

“We are confident that together with our partners in the UK poultry and biotechnology industries, and our academic colleagues in China, we can remove – or certainly reduce – the threat of antibioticresistant pathogens in our food animals, and therefore significantly limit the impact of animal disease on public health,” says Dr Dixon.

The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotic treatments add an average of 20 years to all of our lives. But since the discovery of penicillin, overuse of antibiotics especially in agriculture and food animal production has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine.

Arden Biotechnology, based at the Science and Innovation Park alongside the University of Lincoln campus, is leading the UK team developing the new phagebiotic. The biotech company - the first in Lincoln - was founded following two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) with the University, supported by Innovate UK.

The team has recently scaled-up the ingredients for use in the phagebiotic, conducted successful laboratory experiments, and is looking ahead to the production of the biocontrol agents on a large scale for field trials in the near future.

Meet the Expert

Dr Ron Dixon
School of Life Sciences


Ron Dixon

Dr Ron Dixon is an Associate Professor Lecturer in the College of Science.

For the last ten years, he has continued to research in the infectious diseases, particularly the mode of action and resistance of antibiotics, and DNA diagnostics of infection in medical, forensic, and archaeological contexts from both industrial and academic perspectives. 

Find out more