Skip to main content
Intellect

Another reason to be thankful: turkeys may be lifesavers

Antibiotic to target staph infections, strep, comes from good bacteria in turkeys

The Back Story:

  • BYU Prof Marcus Jensen discovered Strain 115 more than 30 years ago
  • Jensen developed vaccines for turkeys in early 80s
  • Undergrad found the strain in a BYU freezer 30 years later, started new research
  • Grad student, led by BYU faculty, now studying how the bacteria creates an antibiotic

While the turkey you eat on Thursday will bring your stomach happiness and could probably kick-start an afternoon nap, it may also save your life one day.
That’s because the biological machinery needed to produce a potentially life-saving antibiotic is found in turkeys. Looks like there is one more reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving.

“Our research group is certainly thankful for turkeys,” said BYU microbiologist Joel Griffitts, whose team is exploring how the turkey-born antibiotic comes to be. “The good bacteria we’re studying has been keeping turkey farms healthy for years and it has the potential to keep humans healthy as well.”

That’s because the good bacteria, Strain 115 as scientists know it, produces the MP1 antibiotic—a known killer that could target staph infections, strep throat, severe gastrointestinal diseases and roughly half of all infectious bacteria. This antibiotic, however, is not in widespread use because of its complex structure.

Griffitts, colleague Rich Robison and graduate student Philip Bennallack have been using serious science (mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy) to identify exactly how Strain 115 makes this antibiotic—and how it manages to do so without killing itself. What they’re finding is that the mechanism for producing it is surprisingly simple.

They found the engine inside of Strain 115, a compact DNA molecule also known as a plasmid, produces both the killer antibiotic and a self-protecting agent. It makes a “spare” ribosome part which, when inserted into a normal ribosome, renders it immune to the antibiotic.

“It’s sort of like outfitting a car with special tires that protect against unusual road hazards,” Griffitts said.

But what makes this turkey story so great is that, just like Thanksgiving, it has a great beginning. It started with a turkey farm more than three decades ago, when now-retired BYU professor Marcus Jensen discovered Strain 115.

Through his research on the strain, Jensen went on to develop three vaccines vital to the prevention of diseases in turkeys. And while his work with turkeys became widely known and led to awards , his research moved in new directions and the strain was set aside in 1983.

Some 30 years later, a student found the strain in a freezer. After some initial research efforts by undergraduates, Bennallack took the project into high gear. And now, with mentoring from Robison and Griffitts, the group has published their new findings in the Journal of Bacteriology.

“Sometimes bacteria retire with the people who discover them,” Griffitts said. “We simply rediscovered it and now we are capitalizing on it once again.”

Related Articles
data-content-type="article"
October 14, 2020
Catastrophic fires in the West are burning hotter than ever, leaving paths of destruction through both human development and native plant ecosystems. Seed coating technology from BYU is helping restore native plant systems.
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
data-content-type="article"
October 13, 2020
A new BYU study, published in the journal Vaccines, shows that 68% of respondents are supportive of being vaccinated for COVID-19, but concerns remain about side effects, sufficient vaccine testing and vaccine effectiveness.


overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
data-content-type="article"
October 08, 2020
Water modeling software created by BYU researchers can predict the rise and fall of every river on the face of the planet. Those streamflow forecasts are now being made available to agencies worldwide to deal with water emergencies.
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText= overrideTextAlignment=
overrideBackgroundColorOrImage= overrideTextColor= overrideTextAlignment= overrideCardHideSection=false overrideCardHideByline=false overrideCardHideDescription=false overridebuttonBgColor= overrideButtonText=