Microbiota of the chicken gastrointestinal tract: influence on health, productivity and disease
Intensifying concerns about the use of antimicrobials in meat and poultry production has enhanced interest in the application of prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes to enhance growth and prevent disease in food animals. Growth-promoting antibiotics enhance growth of animals by reducing the load of bacteria in the intestine, by reducing colonization by intestinal pathogens or by enhancing the growth and/or metabolism of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. Recently, molecular ecology, utilizing DNA-sequence heterogeneity of the 16S rRNA gene, has revealed a surprising diversity of uncharacterized bacteria inhabiting this ecosystem. We used this approach to determine the effect of growth-promoting antibiotics on the development and composition of the ileal bacterial community. Pairwise comparisons, correspondence analysis and community diversity indices revealed significant differences among the treatments (bacitracin/virginiamycin or monensin) and controls. Antibiotics reduced the diversity of the ileal bacterial community and induced communities rich in Clostridia throughout the life of the broiler chicken. These results indicate that some bacterial species, such as lactobacilli, were suppressed and also suggest that many intestinal Clostridia may be non-pathogenic. Future studies should focus on characterizing the important bacterial species needed to stabilize the intestinal microbiota and identifying those commensals that stimulate and enhance development of intestinal function.