Public Release: 

Bacteria inside red mites could be targeted to control poultry pests

Microbiology Society

Bacteria which live symbiotically inside the blood-sucking pests called red poultry mites could be a new and effective target to prevent the spread of Salmonella and similar pathogens in chickens, turkeys and other table birds, according to scientists speaking today (Wednesday 5 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.

Economic losses inside the European Union caused by the red poultry mite are now running at roughly €130 million or nearly £90 million every year. The mite causes blood spotting on eggs, making them unfit for sale. In severe cases the infested birds can become badly anaemic and fall ill, or get infections caused by bacteria and viruses which can be passed on to people, giving them dangerous illnesses.

"With the recent changes in regulations brought on by new threats like bird 'flu, coupled with a growing and widespread resistance to the chemicals we use to fight poultry mites, called acaricides, we urgently need to develop new approaches to combat these pests", says Dr Olivier Sparagano from Newcastle University, UK.

"If somehow we could develop a method to destabilise the symbiotic bacteria that we have discovered living inside the mites, therefore removing the beneficial effect, we could develop a new control method for the chicken red mite", says Dr Sparagano.

If the scientists are successful then the use of acaricide chemicals could be cut, which in turn would reduce the harmful effect they have on the environment and cut down cases of skin rashes and dermatitis in poultry farmers, smallholders and meat packers. Some traces of acaricides have even been found in eggs intended for human consumption.

"The bacteria are obviously very important to the mites. A new control method based on attacking the symbiotic bacteria inside the mites' bodies would also create economic benefits through higher egg quality and production, and fewer diseases transmitted by these parasitic mites. It would also lead to better welfare for the birds", says Dr Sparagano.

Red poultry mites are a direct threat to economically valuable birds, suspected of passing on diseases like Newcastle Disease. But they have also been shown to be part of a wider chain transmitting diseases to people and other animals such as the food poisoning bacteria Salmonella, and equine encephalitis in horses.

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Notes to News Editors:
For further information contact Dr Olivier Sparagano, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AFRD), Agriculture Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne tel: +44.191.222.5071, fax: +44.191.222.6720, email: Olivier.Sparagano@ncl.ac.uk

Dr Sparagano is presenting the poster 'Endosymbionts of the chicken red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae)' at 1315 on Wednesday 05 September 2007 in the Eukaryotic Microbiology Group session of the 161st Meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, 03 - 06 September 2007.

For press enquiries during the meeting please contact the SGM desk on +44 (0) 131 650 4581 or mobile telephone +44 (0) 7824 88 30 10

For enquiries prior to the meeting contact Lucy Goodchild at the SGM office, tel: +44 (0) 118 988 1843, fax: +44 (0) 118 988 5656, email: l.goodchild@sgm.ac.uk

Full programme details of this meeting can be found on the Society's website at: http://www.sgm.ac.uk/meetings/MTGPAGES/Edinburgh07.cfm. Hard copies are available on request from the SGM.

The Society for General Microbiology is the largest microbiology society in Europe, and has over 5,500 members worldwide. The Society provides a common meeting ground for scientists working in research and in fields with applications in microbiology including medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, agriculture, food, the environment and education.

The SGM represents the science and profession of microbiology to government, the media and the general public; supporting microbiology education at all levels; and encouraging careers in microbiology.

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