Video transcript: What lives inside a chicken?

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April 2013

Video shows chickens.

Professor Mark Pallen, The University of Warwick, formerly University of Birmingham
The chicken metagenome project is about looking at the most abundant bird and food animal in the world and important model organism and charting this unknown terrority what lives inside its gut. And we know that's it's important to the health of the organism of the chicken, its growth and so forth but we really know very little about it and we now have the technology to do a definitive job here and actually look into great detail at what lives there.

Chicken is the most abundant bird on the plant, the most abundant food animal that humans use. In a sense the health and welfare of the nation depend on the chicken, the chicken itself, we eat eggs. People even ate chicken soup on the far side of the moon, Apollo astronauts, that's what they ate. It gives you an idea of how important it is but the irony is that we know more about the far side of the moon than we know about what lives inside the chicken gut. There are hundreds of different bacteria species that live in there.

Video shows a labelled diagram of a chicken.

Where we've, in our initial survey, we have chosen to focus on is part of the chicken gut call the caecum, and there are two caeca in each chicken, and these are like out pocketing's of the gastrointestinal track. Food passes into these and then sits there for very long periods of time before it is then voided out of the chicken and we think this is one of the key places where a lot of interesting things happen nutrients absorption, processing and so forth. And it's the place in the gastrointestinal track where the microbial load is the highest this is where the larger number and most diverse population of bacterial live.

Video shows light micrograph of chicken gut bacteria.

Why we are interested in that is that this chicken gut community, this microbial plays an important role in the health and disease of this resident host. It plays an important role in priming the development of the gastrointestinal track, particularly the immune system associated with the gastrointestinal track. It plays an important role in the recovery of nutrients in food and it's clear that the chickens are fed on this very complex carbohydrate diet and much of what's recovered from the diet depends on those microorganisms. What we hope is that by mining this metagenome we will find many more such enzymes that might be present in that metagenome in small amounts and in a particular niche, but if actually produced industrially might have important biotechnology roles, might have important roles as food supplements for the chicken to actually improve their health and growth rate.

We are interested in the food safety issue. We are looking at birds that have Campylobacter and birds who don't have Campylobacter. We hope to get clues about how Campylobacter affects the chicken microbial community, how we might be able to better prevent Campylobacter colonisation. There already are industrial products where you feed chickens a mixture of different microbes to keep out Campylobacter but with better understanding of how these communities work we may even be able to improve on those and put them on a more rational basis.

Video shows MiSeq sequencer.

The other primary driver, apart from the scientific importance of this, is that we now have at our disposal technologies that are absolutely amazing in terms of through put. So we can approach this high put sequencing to get a much deeper picture, a definitive senses if you like of what lives in the chicken gut, that far exceeds what we were capable of doing even five years ago. So it's the two things coming together that this well posed question and this interesting kind of internal environment within the chicken gut that is unexplored and the availability of new technologies to make that job attractable.



Hen and chicken footage courtesy of The Roslin Institute.

Apollo footage and space food, NASA.

Chicken bacteria and bacteria in gut animation, www.sciencephoto.com.

Music 'Mischief maker' by Jim Chappell from cinephonix.com

BBSRC ident from biganimal.co.uk