CRISPR-based Approaches to Food Safety and Animal Health 

Highly Specific Alternative to Antimicrobials
Cows grazing

Available for Licensing
TRL: 4

IP Status

US Provisional Patent


Hua Yang
Keith E. Belk

Reference No: 2019-115
Licensing Manager

Jessy McGowan

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a novel antimicrobial intervention for selective killing of bacterial pathogens in animal production and food products. CRISPR-Cas9 technology is utilized to target harmful foodborne illness causing bacteria. This novel, highly specific approach can serve as an alternative to traditional broad-spectrum antimicrobials in the pre-harvest environment and is applicable in beef and other meat producing industries where infections from foodborne pathogens are a persistent food safety hazard.



The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2010, foodborne illnesses affected 600 million people and caused 420,000 deaths globally [7].  In the United States, 47.8 million cases of foodborne illness are estimated to occur annually with 127,839 hospitalizations and 3,037 deaths [4].

Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) is an important cause of foodborne illness in humans that frequently result in hospitalization [2]. Estimated global cases of E. coli infections are just under 2.5 million, causing 269 deaths [7]. Outbreaks linked to these pathogens have been associated with various foods, mainly fresh produce and beef and other ruminant animal meats [1],[5].


This invention uses a phage-mediated system for the efficient delivery of CRISPR-Cas9-based antimicrobials into bacterial cells for sequence specific elimination of pathogenic E. coli. The selective killing of target pathogens leaves the remaining healthy microbiome intact and reduces the need for traditional antimicrobials. While this work has been done in E. coli¸ the platform could be adapted for other important pathogens. This technology is envisioned to not only treat livestock but could also be used in meat production facilities to prevent pathogenic bacteria from proliferating, as well as decrease the prevalent antibiotic resistance in ruminant livestock. Work has also been done to estimate and mitigate the potential biosafety risk of using this system in beef cattle production, and no dramatic changes to the bovine system were identified when exposed to this CRISPR treatment system.

  • Gene targeted removal of bacterial populations eliminates widespread antibiotic use in food production systems
  • Selective destruction of harmful bacteria protects non-target bacterial populations, encouraging a healthy microbiome
  • Highly programmable and tunable
  • Novel method able to target and kill antibiotic resistant bacteria along the food production chain
  • Use could prevent the development of antibiotic resistance
  • Highly specific alternative antimicrobials and antibiotics in in food and animal production