Concordia Professor Awarded $6M for Uncovering Antibiotic Alternatives

Funding to Be Given Over Three Years to Create a Library of Lysozymes

  • Concordia Professor Adrian Tsang was awarded $6 million in funding over three years to characterize and produce naturally occurring enzymes that kill bacteria, called lysozymes. Photo Daren Zomerman

  • Concordia Professor Adrian Tsang was awarded $6 million in funding over three years to characterize and produce naturally occurring enzymes that kill bacteria, called lysozymes. Photo Daren Zomerman

One Concordia researcher is developing a novel approach to combat the overuse of antibiotics on farms around the country.

The director of Concordia’s Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics, Adrian Tsang, was recently awarded $6 million in funding over three years to characterize and produce naturally occurring enzymes that kill bacteria, called lysozymes.

The multi-million dollar funding comes from Génome Québec, Genome Canada, as well as Elanco, one of the top animal feed producers in the world.

The enzymes were known to show antibacterial properties before the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin in the 20s, Tsang explained. Lysozymes are often used to protect commercial foods such as cheese, infant formula, and various other high-cost fermented products.

However, because of their high production cost, they are not widely used in animal feed and other inexpensive commercial goods, which often rely on cheap-to-produce antibiotics for safety—despite the concern over creating resistant bacteria, Tsang said.

“Without antibiotics, we certainly wouldn’t have the population size that we have,” Tsang said.

“We’ve made a number of mistakes along the way, and even though resistance has been known about for a long time, we have just not been careful about it.”

Tsang’s research estimates that there could be over 200,000 different lysozymes produced by bacteria and fungi, which means there is a high likelihood of discovering another broadly-effective antimicrobial agent, he said. While the project will not be able to characterize all lysozymes, it will likely be able to uncover and determine the effectiveness of different families.

“To discount evolution would be rather foolish.” — Adrian Tsang

Next, Tsang’s team of 40 researchers will produce the enzymes from a common fungi and compare their effectiveness to commercially available lysozymes. If the project is successful, the team could begin animal trials with chickens as early as this year.

Photo Daren Zomerman

Diane Bouchard, the director of programs and strategic projects from Génome Québec said this is a promising project that could have a major impact on the health of Canadians.

“It’s one of the projects that we are very proud of, because we can see the impact that it would have on the health of the population and for the health of the animals as well,” Bouchard explained.

She continued, “Elanco is [one of the] largest animal feed producers in the world. If they stop putting antibiotics in their food that they give to animals, and instead use lysozymes, it’s going to have a huge impact.”

While the lysozyme research has shown promise, Tsang refused to discount nature’s ability to evolve new processes of overcoming the antibacterial agent.

“If you come to think about it, each of us is producing close to a kilogram of bacteria, we’re talking about trillions and trillions of bacteria. So just by chance they’re going to evolve some mechanism to overcome it,” Tsang said.

“To discount evolution would be rather foolish.”

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