Mushrooms Have a Future in Fighting a Fowl
Parasite By Luis
Pons December 8, 2006
Wide use of a mushroom extract to protect poultry against a major
parasitic disease is now closer, thanks to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist and her South Korean
The researchersled by immunologist
Lillehoj at the ARS
Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.developed a technique
for controlling coccidiosis, which costs the world's poultry industry billions
of dollars in losses annually.
The new method is the subject of a patent application. It introduces
mushroom lectins to birds via injection into developing embryos, or through
drinking water. Once administered, the lectins spur a protective reaction
against the disease in the gut.
Coccidiosis is caused by parasites of the genus Eimeria that infect
the intestinal tract and are transmitted between birds through infected feces.
Often most severe in birds that are young or whose disease immunity has been
weakened by other infections, the disease can cause bloody diarrhea, severe
dehydration, substantial weight loss and death.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins found in animals and plants.
They stimulate disease-fighting cells by binding to their sugar residues,
inducing the release of potent immune-system proteins called cytokines.
Lillehoj and scientists at South Korea's
Chungnam National University
and Rural Resource Development Institute used lectin extracted from
Fomitella fraxinea, a wood-rotting mushroom seen mostly on black locust
tree stumps. They injected it into 18-day-old embryos to activate their innate
immune systems and later challenged the newly hatched chicks with
The treatment significantly protected chickens against
coccidiosis-associated weight loss and reduced fecal shedding of live
parasites. This particular lectin is usually prepared under less-stringent
conditions than are other mushroom compounds that produce a similar effect,
making its commercial production more feasible.
This research is described in a recent issue of the journal
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.