Early-life Factors Shaping the Gut Microbiome of Young Birds

Jenn Hoskins
15th May, 2024

Early-life Factors Shaping the Gut Microbiome of Young Birds

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study at Bielefeld University found that avian malaria infection in canaries changes the composition of their gut bacteria
  • Despite no significant changes in overall bacterial diversity, specific bacteria increased or decreased due to the infection
  • The infection also altered how different bacteria interact with each other, affecting certain metabolic pathways in the gut
The dynamic relationship between host organisms and their gut microbiomes is a critical area of study, shedding light on how these microbial communities influence health and disease. A recent study conducted by Nayden Chakarov, Joseph I. Hoffman, and Oliver Krüger at Bielefeld University[1] has furthered our understanding of this interplay by examining the gut microbiome's response to avian malaria in birds. This research builds on previous findings about the role of gut microbiota in maintaining host health and preventing pathogen colonization[2]. The study explored how the infection by the avian malaria parasite, Plasmodium homocircumflexum, affects the gut microbiome of canaries. This is particularly significant because while it is known that malaria parasites in rodents and humans cause disruptions in the gut microbiome[3], the impact on avian species was previously unclear. The researchers aimed to determine whether similar disruptions occur in birds and how these changes might influence the host's overall health. To investigate this, the team conducted a series of experiments where they infected canaries with P. homocircumflexum and monitored changes in their gut microbiomes over time. They collected fecal samples from both infected and uninfected birds at various stages of infection and used high-throughput sequencing technologies to analyze the bacterial communities present. The results revealed that while there were no significant changes in the overall diversity of the microbiome (alpha and beta diversity) in infected birds, there were notable shifts in the composition and abundance of specific bacterial taxa. This indicates that while the overall variety of bacteria remained stable, the presence of certain bacteria increased or decreased as a result of the infection. These findings align with previous research showing that commensal bacteria can influence the host's immune response and help prevent pathogen colonization[2]. Further analysis using co-occurrence networks showed that the structural states of the microbiome differed between infected and uninfected birds. This suggests that the infection not only alters the presence of specific bacteria but also changes how these bacteria interact with each other. The study also used predictive functional profiling to identify metabolic pathways affected by the infection. They found that certain degradation and biosynthesis pathways were associated with the presence of the parasite, which were not found in healthy birds. Interestingly, some pathways that decreased during the early stages of infection showed a significant increase later on. This dynamic shift could have implications for the host's ability to manage the infection and recover. The findings of this study are crucial as they highlight the intricate ways in which a parasitic infection can modulate the gut microbiome, potentially leading to deleterious consequences for the host. Understanding these interactions is essential for identifying key microbial players that could be targeted to improve animal health. For instance, previous research has shown that the gut microbiome plays a vital role in nutrient digestion, pathogen inhibition, and interaction with the host's immune system[4]. The current study expands on this by demonstrating how an infection can disrupt these beneficial processes. Moreover, this research adds to the growing body of evidence that the gut microbiome's response to pathogens is complex and multifaceted. It underscores the importance of considering the microbial community as a whole rather than focusing on individual pathogens. This holistic approach is supported by studies showing that viruses and other pathogens can significantly influence microbial diversity and community composition in various host species[5]. In conclusion, the study by Chakarov, Hoffman, and Krüger provides valuable insights into the effects of avian malaria on the gut microbiome, revealing significant shifts in bacterial composition and metabolic pathways. These findings emphasize the need for further research into the interactions between parasites and gut microbiota, which could lead to new strategies for promoting health and preventing disease in both animals and humans.

HealthGeneticsAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Early-life factors shaping the gut microbiota of Common buzzard nestlings

Published 14th May, 2024


Related Studies

2) Commensal bacteria mediated defenses against pathogens.


3) Avian Malaria Parasites Modulate Gut Microbiome Assembly in Canaries.


4) Current Perspectives of the Chicken Gastrointestinal Tract and Its Microbiome.


5) Demographic and environmental drivers of metagenomic viral diversity in vampire bats.


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