Using Virtual Reality to Increase Resistance to E. coli Infection in Chickens

Sasha Celada, Graham Redweik, Dr. Melha Mellata, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011

Nine in ten Americans consume poultry meat or eggs on a regular basis. The increasing awareness of concentrated animal feeding operations and animal welfare is leading consumers to purchase cage-free or free-range poultry products. Cage-free birds are susceptible to opportunistic infections and stress; free-range chickens are susceptible to environmental factors. We combined the visual stimuli of a free-range farm and the security of an indoor facility by placing chickens in pens with a free-range virtual reality (VR) simulation, hypothesizing that VR would reduce stress thus improve resistance to infection, such as avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC). Hens were split into VR receiving treatment and control (CON). After five days in the pens, blood and serum samples were collected for subsequent analyses. To measure APEC killing, fresh blood was inoculated with APEC strains APEC-O2, APEC-O1, X7122, as well as MG1655, a non-pathogenic control, in vitro. To calculate heterophil/lymphocyte (H/L) ratio, a biological marker of stress, cells were measured using Giemsa staining and light microscopy. A student’s t-test was used to calculate significance between groups. Chickens exposed to VR had greater E. coli killing ability. More specifically, VR chickens killed all APEC strains tested. H/L ratios were low in VR group yet statistically identical between groups. The VR treatment improved broad resistance to APEC infections, crucial given that APEC causes extraintestinal diseases in poultry and foodborne outbreaks. Improving resistance to APEC has great potential to save millions of dollars for the poultry industry. The blood assay showed greater antibacterial response to a common pathogen in the VR group. From this, we infer that stress levels decreased due to VR exposure. We find VR positively impacted immune responses against APEC in the blood. Future studies should be replicated with a longer observation time and investigate the mechanisms behind increased resistance.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Sasha Celada

Institution: Iowa State University

Type: Poster

Subject: Microbiology

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 8
Date/Time: Tue 5:00pm-6:00pm
Session Number: 5654