Alternatives to antibiotics: bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides and bacteriophages

Poult Sci. 2003 Apr;82(4):640-7. doi: 10.1093/ps/82.4.640.


Bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides, and bacteriophage have attracted attention as potential substitutes for, or as additions to, currently used antimicrobial compounds. This publication will review research on the potential application of these alternative antimicrobial agents to poultry production and processing. Bacteriocins are proteinaceous compounds of bacterial origin that are lethal to bacteria other than the producing strain. It is assumed that some of the bacteria in the intestinal tract produce bacteriocins as a means to achieve a competitive advantage, and bacteriocin-producing bacteria might be a desirable part of competitive exclusion preparations. Purified or partially purified bacteriocins could be used as preservatives or for the reduction or elimination of certain pathogens. Currently only nisin, produced by certain strains of Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, has regulatory approval for use in certain foods, and its use for poultry products has been studied extensively. Exploration of the application of antimicrobial peptides from sources other than bacteria to poultry has not yet commenced to a significant extent. Evidence for the ability of chickens to produce such antimicrobial peptides has been provided, and it is likely that these peptides play an important role in the defense against various pathogens. Bacteriophages have received renewed attention as possible agents against infecting bacteria. Evidence from several trials indicates that phage therapy can be effective under certain circumstances. Numerous obstacles for the use of phage as antimicrobials for poultry or poultry products remain. Chiefly among them are the narrow host range of many phages, the issue of phage resistance, and the possibility of phage-mediated transfer of genetic material to bacterial hosts. Regulatory issues and the high cost of producing such alternative antimicrobial agents are also factors that might prevent application of these agents in the near future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / virology
  • Bacteriocins / adverse effects
  • Bacteriocins / pharmacology*
  • Bacteriophages / pathogenicity*
  • Food Preservation / methods
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Peptides*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacteriocins
  • Peptides