New Class of Deworming Agent for Pigs

A team of USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists has demonstrated that when a bacteria-derived protein was fed to worm-infected pigs, the infection was nearly completely eliminated.
calendar icon 4 July 2014
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Animal caretaker Andy Covell (left) and microbiologist Joseph Urban orally inoculate a piglet in a study to eliminate infection from the parasitic roundworm Ascaris suum.

Intestinal parasitic roundworms are host-species specific and are found in pigs, cats, dogs, humans and other animals. A roundworm specific to humans, Ascaris lumbricoides, is rarely seen in developed countries.

Still, about one billion people are infected with this species of worm worldwide, usually via some contact with faeces. When A. lumbricoides infects children, nutrient deficiency, respiratory distress, stunted growth, and immune defects occur. In the extreme, infection can cause life-threatening gut blockage. Worms can also migrate into the bile ducts and the permeable membrane that covers the abdominal organs.

The parasitic roundworm that commonly infects pigs is Ascaris suum, which is so genetically similar to A. lumbricoides that some evidence suggests they are the same species. A. suum infection in pigs is considered a good model for A. lumbricoides infection in humans because of its similar migration through the body and to the intestines.

The research team included microbiologist Joseph Urban and his colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville [Maryland] Human Nutrition Research Center and Raffi Aroian and Yan Hu at the University of California-San Diego.

In its experiments, the team used a crystal protein called 'Cry5B', provided by Dr Aroian’s group, which is derived from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. Cry5B protein is considered non-toxic to vertebrates and mammals, but it has been used in the past as an insecticide. A. suum genetically expresses receptors for Cry5B.

Previously, Cry5B had been shown by Dr Aroian and colleagues to be toxic to hookworms. In laboratory tests, Cry5B triggered activation of stress-response pathways in Ascaris larvae and adults similar to that observed with other worms.

“Feeding two moderate doses of Cry5B to pigs resulted in nearly complete elimination of intestinal A. suum infection, and all intestinal roundworm larvae were damaged or destroyed,” says Dr Urban. “The dosage we provided in this study is comparable to the dose range used in existing commercial anti-parasitic drugs.”

There is a need for more practical delivery systems for anti-parasitic drug treatments, according to the scientists. Cry5B holds potential for use where worm resistance is becoming a problem, especially among ruminant livestock. The University of California researchers have filed a patent application on the protein expression, and further cooperative research with ARS is being planned.

“These results show the potential of Cry5B to treat Ascaris infections in pigs and other livestock and to work effectively in the human gastrointestinal tract,” added Dr Urban.

Further Reading

Find out more information on intestinal worms in pigs by clicking here.

July 2014

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