Machine learning to fight antibiotic resistance in farmed chickens

Friday, 02 August 2019

A new research project to improve the health of farmed chickens in China and reduce the risk of disease and antibiotic resistance transferring to human populations has been launched today.

The FARMWATCH project will use machine learning to find new ways to identify and pinpoint disease in poultry farms, reducing the need for antibiotic treatment and lowering the risk of antibiotic resistance transferring to consumers.

The £1.5m project is a partnership between researchers from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment. Funded by Innovate UK and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), the researchers are also collaborating with commercial partners, Nimrod Veterinary Products in the UK and New Hope Liuhe in China.

Antibiotics in poultry production

The rapid increase in poultry production to meet growing demand in China has resulted in extensive and indiscriminate use of antibiotics. This has led to a worrying increase in cases of  antibiotic resistance (ABR) diagnosed in animals and, as a result,  humans, via direct contact, environmental contamination, and food consumption.

With antibiotic resistance now one of the most threatening issues worldwide, effective and rapid diagnostics of bacterial infection in chicken farming can reduce the need for antibiotics, which will reduce epidemics and ABR.

The researchers in Nottingham will be working with colleagues in China to take thousands of samples from the animals, humans and environment of nine farms, in three Chinese provinces over three years. This complex ‘big’ data will be analysed for new diagnostic biomarkers that will predict and detect bacterial infection, insurgence of ABR, and transfer to humans. This data will then allow early intervention and treatment, reducing spread and the need for antibiotics.

Transforming animal care and protecting consumer health

This is a hugely important project that has the potential to transform the ways farm animals are treated and looked after. It also has significant impact on the heath of consumers of poultry products, with future ramifications to other farmed animals. For the first time we are using large-scale collection of data, statistical modelling and data mining powered by machine learning and cloud computing to find answers to some big problems faced by the farming industry. This project will contribute to sustainable development in China through improved health and well-being of vulnerable populations. We can then apply these learnings to the UK as well.
Dr Tania Dottorini, Assistant Professor in Bioinformatics at the University of Nottingham and member of the Future Food Beacon
Nimrod Veterinary Products is delighted to be working with UK and Chinese partners to find new interventions to support improved poultry production in China. What is striking about this project is its scale and ambition which would not have been possible without such a strong partnership between academia and business in the UK and China.
Donna Renney, Director of Operations, Nimrod Veterinary Products

The FARMWATCH consortium comprises outstanding industrial and academics partners in the UK and in China, offering a unique combination of academic and industrial expertise in machine learning, statistical and mathematical modelling, bioinformatics, sequencing, cloud computing, microbiology, infection control and veterinary treatment, food safety, surveillance, epidemiology.

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FARMWATCH aims to develop interventions to reduce the risk of spreading diseases and antibiotic resistance to populations of consumers of poultry products, leading to healthier food production systems.

FARMWATCH forms part of the University of Nottingham’s Future Food Beacon’s ambition to develop a Sino-UK AgriFoodTech Innovation Hub that will support the Chinese AgriFood sector.

In the UK the consortium is led by David Renney MRCVS (Business PI) of Nimrod UK, a company specialised in the deployment of veterinary technology and products for livestock farming, and by Dr. Tania Dottorini (Academic PI), of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham. David Renney and Dr. Tania Dottorini will work in close partnership with high-profile Chinese collaborators such as: Prof. Peng Zixin (Academic PI) in the China National Centre For Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), Longhai Liu of New Hope, the largest Chinese livestock producer and Zhengyuan Zhu of The Dongwa Software Company (DHC), Chinese developer of large software systems.

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. The University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its status as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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