Optimal gut health is of vital importance to the performance of production animals. Gut health is synonymous in animal production industries with animal health. Although there does appear to be a direct relationship between animal performance and a “healthy” gastrointestinal tract (GIT), there is no clear definition for “gut health” that encompasses a number of physiological and functional features, including nutrient digestion and absorption, host metabolism and energy generation, a stable microbiome, mucus layer development, barrier function, and mucosal immune responses.
Challenges in Poultry Production
1. Sustainable protein production for the growing world population
2. Guarantee food safety
3. Respect the environment & waste management
4. Keep business profitable
Gut health & Homeostasis
The GIT is responsible for regulating physiological homeostasis that provides the host the ability to withstand infectious and non-infectious stressors. Understanding the interactions between these diverse physiological features emphasizes the extent of areas encompassed by gut health and the ability to regulate animal production. Gut health can be defined as the absence/prevention/avoidance of disease so that the animal is able to perform its physiological functions in order to withstand exogenous and endogenous stressors.
The issue of Antibiotic Resistance
Worldwide public concerns about the production animal industries’ dependency on the use of growth-promoting antibiotics (AGPs) have resulted in the ban of AGPs by the European Union and a reassessment of their use in the United States. Thus, research needs to focus more on alternatives to antibiotics for sustainable food animal production.
The complex gut microbiome is not a silent organ or a collection of passenger microorganisms; but rather, the intestinal microbial community represents active participants in birds immunity and physiology. The gut microbiota confers health benefits to the host, including aiding in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, contributing to the construction of the intestinal epithelial barrier, the development and function of the host immune system, and competing with pathogenic microbes to prevent their harmful propagation. Unlike the host genome, which is rarely manipulated by xenobiotic intervention, the microbiome is readily changeable by diet, ingestion of antibiotics, infection by pathogens, and other life events. Antibiotics have a great effect on the host normal microbiota upsetting the balance and inducing a dysbiotic state. The use of sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics in animal diets has been a common practice for promoting growth due to their ability to increase feed efficiency or preventing diseases.
The microbiome has a direct effect on the development and function of the mucosal immune system. There exists a significant association between the microbiome and the expression of genes regulating the mucosal barrier and innate immunity. Regional differences in the microbiome were associated with regional differences in innate immune gene transcription. Similar findings were described between the microbiome of broiler chickens and the expression of avian cytokine RNA transcripts. A negative correlation between pro-inflammatory cytokine genes and the phylum Firmicutes was found; whereas a positive correlation was identified with the pro-inflammatory cytokines and the phylum Proteobacteria.
Gut Health Requires a Holistic Approach
Intestinal health is key for live performance, food safety, animal welfare and to reduce the environmental impact of poultry production.Intestines should be managed as ecosystems: Understanding gut microbial dynamics is important to develop new additives, reduce pathogens and improve poultry performance.To improve gut health a broader approach, involving a combination of nutrition, feed technology,and husbandry management needs to be taken. Input should be obtained from different disciplines, including food technology, human nutrition, veterinary and medical sciences.