South Dakota State University is partnering with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. to develop a new technology to protect pigs against a deadly form of E. coli — enterotoxigenic E. coli or ETEC.

South Dakota State has published its research findings on the technology and filed a patent application. The new technology was developed by Weiping Zhang and David Francis of the university’s Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Department.

ETEC bacteria produce enterotoxins that affect the tissues lining the pig’s intestine, causing vomiting and diarrhea. Currently, there are no preventative products to combat ETEC. Denichiro Otsuga, director of South Dakota State’s Technology Transfer Office, saw a commercial opportunity in the university’s invention. However, to get the technology to the marketplace, Otsuga and the university needed an industrial partner to help commercialize the technology.

South Dakota State researchers altered the toxin genes to make the bacterium produce a non-poisonous “toxoid.” Then they genetically fused the genes of two modified toxins to enhance their immune reaction. The bacterium that produced the resulting “fusion protein,” plus other important elements, could be used to develop a vaccine to fight against the ETEC bacteria.

The end goal is to make a vaccine available to protect weaning pigs from E. coli infections. The research is one of the ongoing projects in South Dakota State’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Vaccinology, which looks for new ways to diagnose and treat infectious disease in both animals and humans.