Research Network Aims to Keep Poultry and People Healthy

Goals include prevention of infectious diseases in chickens

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By India Annamanthadoo, Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge

Prof. Shayan Sharif.

Prof. Shayan Sharif. Photo by Martin Schwalbe

Increasing poultry consumption – and the animal health challenges associated with it — have sparked the creation of a new research network at U of G dedicated to keeping poultry and consumers healthy.

The Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN) is a multifaceted network of 38 experts who collaborate to solve basic and applied issues concerning poultry health, production and welfare as well as industry-relevant issues relating to the environment, food safety and outreach.

The network is headed by pathobiology professor Shayan Sharif, who credits the network’s uniqueness to its breadth of expertise. The PHRN consists of industry and government members, diagnosticians, poultry health professionals and researchers who have backgrounds ranging from engineering and computer science to animal science and veterinary medicine.

This range of expertise allows the network to tackle poultry-related issues in a collaborative and advanced manner.

Current research at the PHRN focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and management of infectious diseases in poultry. At any given time, more than 100 highly-qualified personnel work on poultry-related research under the leadership of PHRN members.

Moreover, the network has access to some of the most cutting-edge technology and animal research facilities on campus. One such facility is the animal isolation unit, which allows researchers such as Sharif and other members of the network to study infectious pathogens — including salmonella and the avian influenza virus — in chickens isolated in biocontainment units. Currently, the PHRN is seeking government funding to refurbish the animal isolation facility with upgraded biocontainment isolators.

Ultimately, the goal of the PHRN is to encourage the production of safe, healthy and ethically-produced poultry by becoming an efficient liaison between the industry and poultry researchers.

“The PHRN wants to enhance consumers’ confidence in poultry products in Ontario and Canada, and at the same time, increase the industry’s profitability,” says Sharif.

The PHRN envisions a poultry industry that is viable and well-protected against existing and emerging threats. Sharif foresees a future with improved biosecurity against poultry health concerns, enhanced poultry welfare and food safety, and a smaller environmental footprint by the industry.

“The network hopes to enhance research training for the next generation of poultry researchers,” he says. “We hope to act as sort of a small university within a big university. Ultimately, we would like to become an international hub for poultry research excellence.”

For more information about the PHRN, visit www.uoguelph.ca/phrn.