Bacteria Beware: Finding solutions under the microscope

Sustainability & Technology

"Meet the entrepreneur who is revolutionizing the livestock industry"

Improving the quality of life for the millions of people who are affected by food poisoning every day is the goal of Phage Technologies, the company founded by three young biotechnological engineers from the Universidad Andrés Bello sought to form a business dedicated to developing biotechnological products to solve everyday public health problems. In 2010 the team received financing from private investors and joined forces with the Fundación Ciencia & Vida (Foundation Science & Life). Phage Technologies developed a commercial product using bacteriophages as a natural means of controlling bacteria. The product is applied in an easy and safe way directly to foodstuffs, thus changing the existing paradigm surrounding traditional ways to disinfect food products.
In the livestock and meat industry, producers have always had to strike a delicate balance to prevent dangerous and costly bacterial infections in their animals. Because of the high mortality rates and costs associated with this type of infection, use of antibiotics in the industry is widespread. However, these same antibiotics also pose health risks for consumers and cause considerable damage to the environment, which has led to growing global concern over their use.

Hans Pieringer, a scientist specializing in biotechnology and microbiology and the head of Phage Technologies, saw another solution. Drawing on his knowledge of bacteriophages, tiny biological particles that are the natural predators of bacteria, he set to work. “These particles are present naturally in rivers, food, and even in our mouths, which means that they present absolutely no risk to human health nor to the environment,” explains Pieringer. “However, in natural conditions they are only present in low concentrations and in mixed samples that don’t specifically target one type of bacteria, so our main challenge was to develop a platform to capture and characterize these bacteriophages in order to later produce them in mass quantities and use them as the active ingredient in our products”.

Initially with the help of, friends, family,  CORFO’s Seed Capital and Start-Up Chile programs start this venture, as well as its joint “Innovation in Healthier Foods” initiative with the Foundation for Innovation in Agriculture (FIA), Hans was able to finance the vital research and development activities he needed to transform his laboratory findings into a marketable product. But Foundation Science & Life support was fundamental for the launch of our project, allowing us to access the resources we needed.

The result is “Milkeeper”, a food additive designed for use in the livestock industry that uses specially developed bacteriophages to prevent E. coli bacterial contamination and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infections among calves, eliminating the need for antibiotics. By using a preventive rather than a reactive or palliative approach to this problem of bacterial control, Milkeeper is a pioneer in solving this widespread industry problem from a completely biological and natural point of view.

Ultimately, Pieringer and his team hope to explore new international markets, promoting Milkeeper as an innovative, inexpensive and environment-friendly alternative for bacterial control that could revolutionize the livestock industry. 

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