Turkey Microbiome Project

Scientific Summary

The gut microbiome has become a huge area of research in the past few years due to the increasing evidence that an organism’s overall health, immune status, susceptibility to infection, and much more can be influenced by  microbial community structure in the gut.  Microbiome analysis can also detect organisms that are not culturable by traditional laboratory methods since DNA sequencing is used to detect the various populations present in the samples.  Agricultural production systems have studied the gut microbiome to determine how bacterial population changes affect the animal’s ability to efficiently gain weight, fight disease, and a variety of other functions.  Syndromes may also be linked to changes in the gut microbiome.  One such syndrome facing the turkey industry is “irritable and crabby syndrome” (ICS) which causes young  birds at approx. 2-3 weeks of age to appear uncomfortable, stop eating, and stop gaining weight.   Antibiotics are typically utilized to control ICS.

In this study, the turkey gut microbiome is assessed for changes as the birds age, develop ICS and are treated with antibiotics.  The project integrates the presence and enumeration of Campylobacter and Salmonella, the genotype and antibiotic resistance profiles of Campylobacter and Salmonella, information on the gut microbiome community structure before and after ICS and antibiotic treatment, as well concurrent responses of various turkey genes in the cecum.  The project is in collaboration with Dr. Donna Carver (Extension Veterinarian, Prestage Department of Poultry Science at NCSU) and is funded by a Dean’s Enrichment Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences  at North Carolina State University, with a counterpart award by the College of Agriculture and Life sciences at Virginia Tech.  The Virginia Tech collaborators are Dr. Brian Badgley (Department of Soil Science) and Dr. Rami Dalloul (Department of Poultry Science) 


Non-Technical Summary

It has become increasingly clear that the population of microbes in the gut, i.e. the gut microbiome, have a profound impact on the health of the entire  animal.  In turkeys, the gut microbiome may influence immune status, weight gain, ability to resist colonization by foodborne and other pathogens, and even affect  behavior.  As such, the study of the turkey gut microbiome could contribute to production efficiency, bird health and wellbeing,  and food safety.  A problem currently facing the turkey industry is “irritable and crabby syndrome” (ICS) which causes the youg birds to appear uncomfortable, stop eating, and stop gaining weight. This project will integrate microbial community composition in the gut with microbial counts of Campylobacter and Salmonella, two foodborne pathogens known to colonize the turkey gastrointestinal tract,   the response of selected turkey genes, and health information from individual birds.  Numbers in the cecum and antimicrobial resistance profiles will be determined for Campylobacter and Salmonella to determine possible  changes that take place in the turkey gut due to ICS, antibiotic usage and Campylobacter or Salmonella colonization.  This will help us better understand the role that different types of bacteria play in the gut microbiome and how certain factors (antibiotics, Campylobacter colonization, or ICS) can affect the bird’s microbiome and overall health.