Getting food poisoning is no fun so researchers have set out to find a way to control it, going beyond existing measures in place today by tapping into unlikely allies: viruses.

It turns out, viruses can seek out and destroy bugs responsible for food poisoning. They are being investigated by researchers from The University of Nottingham to explore just what they are capable of. Thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers can take a closer look at bacteriophages to see if they can be used as potential treatment and prevention method for intestinal diseases particularly affecting children in developing countries.

"There is some evidence to suggest that gut flora - the bacteria that live in the gut - in childhood can offer protection against pathogens in later life," said lead researcher Paul Barrow from the university's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, adding that gut flora is tied up with an individual's immunity and diet, as well as other environmental factors.

The research is one of over 50 that received grants from round 15 of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Exploration Initiative, which provides funding for researchers all over the world to explore ideas that go beyond the usual route in solving persistent global developmental and health challenges.

The Nottingham project aims to study the effects of bacteriophages in pigs, which best mirror intestinal infections in people. In addition to having similar gut bacteria, they also feature immune systems with functions that closely resemble humans'.

If the researchers are able to prove that bacteriophages can kill and prevent intestinal bugs from growing in pigs, they will be a step closer to finding a way to control food poisoning and drastically improving the intestinal health of children in developing countries. Since the protective benefits are believed to be imparted by good immunity and gut bacteria, having good intestinal flora can also give children a shot at growing up as healthy adults.

For their research, Barrow and colleagues will be collaborating closely with other researchers from the Universities of Florence, Washington and Liverpool who not only have expertise but experience as well in the field studying cases in Malawi in Southeast Africa and Burkina Faso in West Africa.

If Barrow and his colleagues are successful at the end of their 18-month project, they can bid for a follow-up grant amounting up to $1 million. Their current grant provided them with $100,000 in funding.

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