Optimizing Flock health and performance by influencing Immune Responsiveness and the gut Microbiome by nutritional interventions in Broilers (FIRM-Broilers).
Health and production performance of broiler chickens are strongly related to microbiota in the gut. The microbiome (=community of microbiota) is associated with several host and environmental factors, but at present its optimal constitution, and how an optimal microbiome in a broiler flock can be established, is largely unknown. In this project, interactions between gut microbiota and the developing immune system, and the dynamics of microbiota in a flock in relation to nutritional interventions will be studied. First the variation of microbiota in individual broilers, flocks and farms will be characterized in a field survey, using 16s rRNA gene sequencing. These data will be used to develop mathematical models describing the development and variation in composition of gut microbiomes during a production period and to identify characteristic microbial profiles (i.e. enterotypes), as previously shown for the human population. Birds with differential profiles will be used to study: (a) effects of different gut microbial communities on the development of the innate and adaptive immune system in broiler chickens; (b) dynamics of microbiota composition and function within birds and within a population in relation to nutrition; (c) effects of manipulations of the flock microbiome through nutrition on production performance, immune responsiveness and spread of infection in flocks. The unique integrative approach in this project, combining specialized expertise in immunology, microbiology, population dynamics and nutrition, will facilitate the development and application of important nutritional innovations that can manipulate the flock microbiome to optimize health, welfare and productivity of broiler flocks