Technology developed by researchers at South Dakota State University (SDSU), in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., aims to protect pigs and people against a deadly strain of E. coli.

SDSU filed a patent application on the research findings developed by assistant professor Weiping Zhang and professor David Francis in SDSU’s Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Department. Their work focused on a group of E. coli bacteria called enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli or ETEC. ETEC bacteria produce toxins called enterotoxins that affect the tissues lining the intestine, causing vomiting and diarrhea.

To commercialize the venture, SDSU sought an industrial partner.

“True to its land-grant mission, SDSU provides solutions to problems people face in the region, often through research activities, but also by partnering with companies,” says Denichiro Otsuga, director of SDSU’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO). “The partnership between SDSU and Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica already has produced a product that benefits producers and pigs.”

In the research, SDSU scientists altered the toxin genes to make the bacterium produce a non-poisonous toxoid, then genetically fused the genes of two modified toxins to enhance their immune reaction. The bacterium and other important products could be used to develop a vaccine against the ETEC bacteria.

The technology to protect pigs also has possible applications in human health being pursued by Zhang for patenting. Besides causing diarrhea in pigs, ETEC strains are a major cause of diarrhea in people in developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that ETEC causes about 210 million cases of illness in humans and 380,000 deaths, mostly in children.