Microbiomes and <em> Campylobacter </em>: How They Fit Together and Why They’re Important

While not many people have heard of Campylobacter, as described in our last post, almost everyone has heard of microbiomes.  The term has become familiar to both scientists and the general public through the Human Microbiome Project and Earth Microbiome Project.  The idea of having a healthy population of “good bacteria” in one’s stomach or home to provide protection from pathogenic or spoilage bacteria has become accepted and is even embraced in today’s world.  To see this attitude in action all one has to do is look the products popping up in stores, like a bacterial scrub in lieu of soap or probiotics.  Combine all of that with the soaring number of publication dealing with microbiomes and this topic is definitely here to stay.

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Figure 1: Phase Contrast Image of the cecal content of a conventionally raised 5 week-old turkey. Campylobacter is circled in red.

But why are we studying it?  What do microbiomes have to do with Campylobacter and our labs work?  Campylobacter is part of the cecal microbiome in poultry and is thought to exist commensally within the ceca, although some research has documented deleterious effects of Campylobacter’s colonization of the ceca.  Regardless of the role it plays in poultry, Campylobacter is a human pathogen and studying where it comes from is a huge part of understanding how to control it.  In this way, studying the turkey cecal microbiome of birds colonized with Campylobacter helps to increase our understanding of what role Campylobacter plays in the turkey ceca and how we can prevent or decrease its presence without harming the birds.

But Campylobacter isn’t the only thing that can benefit from these studies, the applications of microbiome studies are enormous and far-reaching.  Examining the turkey cecal microbiome of birds raised on or off antibiotics can help identify the major differences between the cecal bacterial population of a turkey with and without antibiotics.  If the same microbiome of a turkey raised with antibiotics and resistant to coccidosis, a huge problem in the turkey industry, can be replicated then coccidosis could be treated without the use of antibiotics.  This could greatly decrease the amount of new antibiotic resistant Campylobacter strains and extracellular antibiotic resistance genes present in the poultry rearing environment.

Microbiome studies produce fascinating data that can be applied to real life situations and help form integrative solutions.  So while it may not be immediately obvious why our lab would bother looking at the turkey cecal microbiome, it is actually a necessity.  With new technologies like Next Generation High throughput 16S rRNA community sequencing the longer and more technical name for microbiome studies, we can study the environmental composition of pathogen reservoirs like never before.  The composition of the turkey cecal microbiome contains one pieces of the Campylobacter control puzzle and the Kathariou lab is going to figure it out how it fits.


*All images used in this post were generated from The Kathariou Lab by Meg Kirchner.  If you would like to use them for educational purposes please cite us and the website.*