Lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College wins international award for excellence in microbiology

Last Updated: 16 Nov 2023 22:00:18

Dr Ben Swift, Lecturer in Antimicrobial Resistance, at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), has been named this year’s winner of the international Basil Jarvis Prize for his significant contribution to food safety, food fermentations and food security. This is thanks to the improvements he has made to diagnostic tests for mycobacterial infections in animals and humans. The prize is part of the Applied Microbiology International Awards, which celebrate the brightest minds in the field.

Dr Swift’s award was announced at the prestigious Environmental Microbiology Lecture 2023, held at BMA House in London on 16 November. Dr Swift won the award in recognition of his work as part of a team to invent and commercialise a technology that rapidly detects slow-growing mycobacteria which is responsible for diseases in cattle, such as Bovine TB and Johne’s disease. The research directly addresses one of the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals by providing a method to rapidly diagnose, control, reduce transmission and ultimately eliminate these diseases in cattle.

Cattle are a crucial source of both nutrition and income for people in countries with lower GPD, so livestock production losses caused by diseases have a severe impact on those suffering from hunger or malnutrition. Helping mitigate this impact, Dr Swift co-invented and successfully translated novel technology - Actiphage - that is inexpensive and can be deployed in low-income settings, which has been used to diagnose Bovine TB and Johne’s disease in cattle. The technology uses a bacterial virus (called bacteriophage) to break open the bacteria causing the infection, to release its DNA, which can then be detected using techniques such as PCR.

Dr Ben Swift, Lecturer in Antimicrobial Resistance at the RVC, said:

"The bacteria that cause these diseases are incredibly slow-growing and difficult to diagnose. Our bacteriophage technology - Actiphage - utilises the bacteriophage’s ability to efficiently infect and breakopen live mycobacteria, releasing mycobacterial DNA for molecular detection. In short, we use the bacteriophage as a viable DNA lysis reagent as a rapid, low-cost test that can be deployed worldwide. This will help to provide a more sustainable food system, increase productivity and income and reduce food waste."

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