Understanding the chicken intestinal microbiome: towards a rational approach to feed-based interventions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Infection and Global Health


Understanding the gut microbiome and its contribution to health is a major current research area in both human and animal health. Chickens, which are the most numerous of all livestock in the UK, have particular problems with gut health and infection of enteric pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter that affect both the health of the animal and may also be transmitted via food to humans. Previously antimicrobials were used to promote growth and help reduce enteric infections, but their use was banned in the EU in 2006 and there are calls for the US and other countries to follow suit. Feed additives including probiotic bacteria are used extensively as an alternative to antimicrobial drugs but their use is largely empirical and we little idea how they impact on the microbiome and subsequently on the health of the animal. In this project we will determine how the microbiome of the chicken develops and how it is influenced by probiotics, feed additives, genetics and infection. This underpinning knowledge will allow a more rational approach to developing probiotics and feed additives that act to improve animal health and productivity whilst reducing the use of antimicrobials and reducing the risk of foodborne infection.


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Richards P (2019) Development of the Caecal Microbiota in Three Broiler Breeds. in Frontiers in veterinary science

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Richards-Rios P (2020) Development of the Ileal Microbiota in Three Broiler Breeds. in Frontiers in veterinary science

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011186/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
1843513 Studentship BB/M011186/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2020 Peter Charles Richards
Description This study has added further evidence to the composition of the intestinal microbiome of chickens and how it develops over time. We also tested an intervention of spraying eggs with adult intestinal contents to see whether this could transfer an adult microbiome to chicks. The intervention resulted in faster development of an adult microbiome although only some bacteria were transferred. There was also a lower number of potentially harmful bacteria in treated chicks compared to control chicks.
Exploitation Route The results identify several taxa of bacteria which are likely to be core members of the chicken intestinal microbiome and heavily associated with good intestinal health and immune development
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink