An animal scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) has come up with an antibiotic-free method to protect livestock from common infections. This development comes just as many major companies such as McDonald’s and Tyson Foods declare the gradual end of antibiotic use for their food animals.

According to UWM, farmers use about 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. in an effort to protect animals against disease. Antibiotics also help farm animals to gain weight more quickly. The problem is that overuse of such antibiotics has caused animals to contract drug-resistant infections like Staphylococcus aureus and what scientists call “flesh-eating bacteria”.

Mark Cook (pictured), a UWM professor of animal sciences says that, "You really can't control the bugs forever; they will always evolve a way to defeat your drugs,"

But that hasn’t stopped Cook from looking for alternative methods. UWM describes what Cook is currently focusing on as “a fundamental immune "off-switch" called Interleukin 10 or IL-10, manipulated by bacteria and many other pathogens to defeat the immune system during infection.”

Along with Jordan Sand, an animal sciences associate researcher, Cook has figured out how to “disable this switch inside the intestine, the site of major farm animal infections such as the diarrheal disease coccidiosis.”

So far, Cook has tested his vaccination method on a number of livestock including laying hens and 300,000 chickens. Animals that consumed antibody-bearing material did not develop coccidiosis. Additional testing by other scientists have reduced the rate of bovine respiratory disease in beef cattle after feeding them the IL-10 antibody for two full weeks.

"People have manipulated the immune system for decades, but we are doing it in the gut. Nobody has done that before," Cook says.

Cook and Sand’s research started in 2011 and they have since filed four patents--one of which has just been granted through UWM’s Alumni Research Foundation. They have also been awarded with a $100,000 Accelerator Program grant to continue their research efforts.