Probiotics for... Chickens?!

Joanna Scott-Lutyens BA (Hons) DipION

Who says probiotics are just for us humans? Most of us are aware of the benefits of probiotics for human health, with plenty of clinical trials to prove it, but a recent study has demonstrated that probiotics may have even further reaching benefits – for the health of chickens!

chickens in grass

Probiotics may help protect chickens from pathogenic bacteria

A study1 carried out by the Institute of Food Research (IFR), published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, explored how the coat of probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus johnsonii can have a protective role against pathogenic bacteria Clostridium perfingens. Previous research has demonstrated how this probiotic species can be effective in reducing the incidence of necrotic enteritis in poultry, caused by the C. perfingens bacteria. This study aimed to characterise the coat of the bacteria in order to determine what made it effective in reducing the risk. Using NMR spectroscopy, the researchers discovered that the bacteria has a coat which is made up of exopolysaccharides (known as EPS), which are long sugar-containing molecules, seemingly unique in structure to each bacteria species.

Dr Arjan Narbad states, “Characterising the EPS structures in the L. johnsonii strain is the first step to explaining how it might outcompete C. perfingens”.

Larger farm-scale trials will now be carried out to assess its potential use in combating pathogenic infections carried by poultry bacteria, such as the Clostridum perfingens. The future work aims to further unravel how the EPS molecules enhance function, colonisation and exclusion of pathogens.

We think this research has real potential, and we hope to see more studies being published about the health benefits of good bacteria for animals and poultry. Antibiotics have often been used to clear the infection in chickens and it could be very interesting to look at natural alternatives moving forward. Probiotics aren’t just for humans after all! For example, about probiotics and the trusty honey bee.


  1. Narbad, A. 2013 ‘Structure and Biosynthesis of Two Exopolysaccharides Produced by Lactobacillus johnsonii FI9785’, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 288(44):31938-51.
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