Canadian Poultry Magazine

USask awarded $5.2 million for innovative research projects

By Canadian Poultry magazine   

News Health

Initiatives include early detection of infectious diseases in chickens.

Dr. Susantha Gomis (PhD), professor and head of the Department of Veterinary Pathology in USask’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). (Photo: Submitted)

Early detection of infectious diseases in chickens and developing regional influenza vaccines for pigs are among 28 innovative livestock and forage research projects at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) to be awarded a total of $5.2 million in new funding this week.

The money comes from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF), a program jointly funded by the provincial and federal governments. 

In all, 25 USask researchers were awarded funding for projects that range from using artificial intelligence to monitor the well-being of pigs to developing vaccines to control diseases such as foot rot in cattle, to controlling microbial diseases in bees and maximizing the use of wheat straw in the diet of beef cattle. Five of these projects, totalling $863,000, are at the USask-owned Prairie Swine Centre. 


Dr. Susantha Gomis (PhD), professor and head of the Department of Veterinary Pathology in USask’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), was awarded $170,000 to develop a biomarker-based fecal test for the early detection and control of diseases and performance improvement in commercial broiler chickens. 

“The key element of this project is the rapid diagnostics focus,” said Gomis.  

With concern about antibiotic-resistant superbugs and consumer demands leading to eliminating antibiotics from broiler feed meant to prevent diseases and improve bird welfare, infection rates of pathogens such as E. coli and Clostridium perfringens are increasing in chickens. 

But as Gomis explains, with broilers headed to slaughter at around six weeks, conventional lab testing to diagnose a bacterial or viral infection (or both) and treat it take too long, as regulations require a 21-day withdrawal period for certain antibiotics to clear a bird. The industry currently lacks the ability to detect pathogens within one to two days of onset of an infection. 

Gomis already had been analyzing metabolites in the blood serum of broilers to identify biomarkers that signal an infection even before lesions are detectable under a microscope. He is now investigating if chicken feces provide a non-invasive method of detecting the biomarkers of infections. 

Such early detection of subclinical infections would be a boon for the industry, not only by providing early warnings of infection, but also in terms of savings for expensive feed whose calories are being diverted to activate the immune system of sick birds instead of being used as fuel for growth.  

“The technology to detect diseases early before clinical signs appear can help improve poultry health, food safety, and animal welfare, and ultimately enhance the competitiveness of Canada’s broiler production,” he said. 

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