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Why antibiotic-free “super chickens” might be public health’s newest superheroes


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Photo: Stocksy/Gabi Bucataru

The advent of modern medicine is unequivocally a good thing; we’re living longer and healthier lives, after all! But like with technological innovations, there’s a trade-off with health-related advancements: The abundance of and reliance upon antibiotics has created superbugs and strains of disease resistant to the treatment methods we’ve come to depend on. In response to this, companies and farmers are looking for ways to cut back on preemptively treating animals with antibiotics (even fast-food chains like Wendy’s are joining the cause) so fewer byproducts make their way into consumers’ mouths, thus perpetuating effects of the antibiotic-resistant superbugs. And a study found evidence to support selective breeding as an answer to the problem.

In the study, published in the journal Poultry Science, USDA researchers identified roosters with naturally high levels of two pro-inflammatory chemicals (which initiate an organism’s defense system against harmful pathogens) and used them to breed chicks that were found to be more adept at fighting off infections and disease.

According to the study, through selective breeding, genetically superior “super chickens” that require fewer or no antibiotics could become the norm. Although this could save the poultry industry an estimated $2 billion per year, the real benefit, Quartz reported, would be public health improvements; poultry that isn’t treated with antibiotics but simply has a strong natural resistance to pathogens would result in higher-quality meat. And so, it’s promising to deduce that a decreased prevalence of antibiotics could mean fewer strains of infections become antibiotic-resistant and wreak havoc on the human population.

Here’s to hoping the future continues to trend toward being antibiotic-free.

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