Chickens have been linked to a variety of health conditions, from salmonella outbreaks to urinary tract infections. But researchers have discovered a naturally occurring antibacterial compound in the common barnyard bird that could be used to fight off a variety of illnesses and diseases, including cancer.
The substance – known as NK-lysin – was identified by an international team of scientists led by a Texas A&M University veterinary specialist in White Leghorn and Cornish chickens.
Lead researcher James Womack, who published the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the team examined two genetic variations of NK-lysin and found both fight off bacterial infections and other diseases, while one successfully combats cancer cells, as well.
"It took all of us by surprise," Womack said. "One of the genetic variations shows it has the ability to fight against cancer cells much more aggressively than the other variation. We certainly were not looking at the cancer side of this, but there it was."
Womack and the team, comprised mostly of scientists from the Seoul National University in Korea, said the findings could lead to new treatments for cancer, infectious disease and even preventive measures for other health conditions.
"The next step is to work with other animals and see if similar variants exist,” he said. “We need to look for any genetic similarities to the chicken variants and then determine if these variants affect the health of the animal, but this is an exciting first step in this direction."