A new $500,000 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will support an Iowa State University study on the immune system and intestinal microbiome of broiler chickens with a goal of controlling coccidiosis and associated diseases that plague the poultry industry.
Elizabeth Bobeck, assistant professor, and Stephan Schmitz-Esser, associate professor, will lead the three-year project, as part of a national NIFA focus on animal health and disease. The wide breadth of the Iowa State Department of Animal Science research team provides the unique opportunity to analyze broiler nutrition alongside microbiology.
Coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis are parasitic and microbe-borne diseases in broiler chickens which impact the digestive tract, and currently cost the industry $6 billion per year in lost productivity. No new treatments have entered the market in over 30 years.
The project will use existing animal models for coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis to generate biological data that can best inform researchers on how birds’ gut microbiome and immune system fight diseases. Pathogens have developed several methods to evade host defenses, including ways to use the bird’s immune system against the bird itself. This allows parasites and bacteria to establish in the bird and cause damages to the gastrointestinal tract.
The researchers are working with a new antibody-based feed technology that has been effective in helping chickens recover from coccidiosis and associated diseases. This anti-IL-10 feed additive allows the host’s immune system to recognize the evading pathogen and reinstate normal function. Using this feed additive, the study will look at how the immune system clears pathogens to function normally.
The team will monitor the effects of the anti-IL-10 antibody feed additive on bird growth and immune function as well as which microbes are present in the gut and explore their functions. The research team expects the study will reveal an improved understanding of how this feed additive works. By simultaneously analyzing the intestinal microbiome and immune function, researchers expect to be able to identify additional therapies and treatments that can support immune function when poultry are challenged by parasites or bacteria in their environment.