Endemic disease such as lameness that may lead to paralysis and death in broiler chickens presents considerable welfare problems, it leads to significant antimicrobial usage and results in substantive economic losses for the broiler industry both within the United Kingdom and worldwide. Enterococcus cecorum, an emerging pathogen, has become associated with infections in affected poultry flocks in the British Broiler Industry. However, little is known about how this commensal has evolved to become a pathogen due to E. cecorum genomics being in its infancy. The environmental reservoir(s) that it occupies which results in apparently sporadic disease occurrence within poultry flocks is also unknown, and no close monitoring is being performed of animal behaviour to determine if any subtle changes occur during the early stages of infection before disease progression and gross physical changes that are associated with lameness becomes apparent. Therefore, in this transformational proof-of concept proposal we aimed to fill current knowledge gaps by bringing together a unique and highly skilled project team from diverse backgrounds, gathered through the BBSRC Endemics Livestock Disease Initiative workshops for Priming Partnerships.

In the 12-month period, the research team performed in-depth environmental and caecal sampling of four broiler farms in the UK, with multiple sheds and a diverse range of performances, to detect presence of E. cecorum by quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR), performing culture on selected samples. The on-farm sampling was accompanied by behavioural monitoring cameras, and veterinary inspection of crops and post-mortem analysis, which included microbiology. Whole genome sequencing and bioinformatic analysis was performed retrospectively on E. cecorum collected from UK farms and present within archives at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), as well as five isolates purified from the prospective farm study. The results were compared with E. cecorum genomes available in public repositories. Finally, preliminary stress studies were also performed to determine if E. cecorum pathogens survive in hostile environments.

We are currently analysing the data and expect to publish outcomes from the study in future. Our multi-disciplinary partnership has laid foundations for follow on research so lameness and paralysis due to E. cecorum infection that lead to large economic losses for farmers and the broiler industry in UK, can be avoided.

Contact details:

Professor Muna Anjum

Molecular Lead in Antimicrobial Resistance and Enteric Pathogens

Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)