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Reducing avian influenza’s opportunity to take hold

Probiotics and a healthy gut could help the poultry industry reduce outbreaks of avian influenza in chickens

Photo of chickens (Istock credit wikoski)An outbreak of avian influenza could cause untold numbers of poultry to be culled across Canada. To prevent that, researchers at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) aim to learn more about the role of gut microbes and the potential of probiotics to enhance this prevention.
 
A recent PhD graduate of OVC's Department of Pathobiology, Dr. Alexander Bekele-Yitbarek has discovered that there is an important link between gut microbes and avian influenza virus infection in chickens, and that modulation of the gut microbial composition using probiotics can help reduce severity of infection by regulating the immune response to the virus.
 
“We are adding to our knowledge of the complexity of this disease. Only a few years ago, no one knew that viruses could affect the gut microbiota,” says Yitbarek. “It’s also creating an opportunity and adding another tool in the box that is complementary to preventing this disease with vaccination.”
 
The gut microbiota is essential for developing and strengthening the immune system and for improving gut and overall health.
 
Bacterial infections are known to impact gut microbial populations. But this study is among the first to show that those populations are affected by avian influenza virus, and that modulation of composition of the gut microbiota can result in a robust antiviral immune response in chickens.
 
The gut microbial composition changed in infected birds and returned to normal only after the virus was cleared. Researchers also determined that the virus reproduces faster in birds with antibiotic-depleted microbiota to induce dysbiosis, a negative imbalance of gut microbiota, leading to a more severe infection.
 
Researchers found that developing probiotics specific for the modulation of gut microbial composition and immune response of chickens to influenza virus infection may provide a robust and effective prevention strategy.
 
They also found that tissue regeneration improvement occurred after administration of probiotics in chickens with dysbiosis in the gut, which was also associated with lower shedding of the virus in the feces.
 
“We are trying to feed more people due to population growth. Sustainable agricultural production is more important than ever, and minimizing poultry mortality and morbidity due to this virus is a step in the right direction since poultry meat will play a major role in the supply of protein to the growing population,” says Yitbarek.
 
This research was supervised by OVC pathobiology professor Dr. Shayan Sharif.
 
Funding was provided by the Canadian Poultry Research Council-Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Cluster, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance. This research was supported in part by the University of Guelph’s Food from Thought initiative, thanks to funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
 
Article by Sydney Pearce, Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge