Microbial diversity and metabolic function in duodenum, jejunum and ileum of emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

Sci Rep. 2023 Mar 18;13(1):4488. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-31684-8.


Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae), a large flightless omnivorous ratite, are farmed for their fat and meat. Emu fat can be rendered into oil for therapeutic and cosmetic use. They are capable of gaining a significant portion of its daily energy requirement from the digestion of plant fibre. Despite of its large body size and low metabolic rate, emus have a relatively simple gastroinstetinal (GI) tract with a short mean digesta retention time. However, little is known about the GI microbial diversity of emus. The objective of this study was to characterize the intraluminal intestinal bacterial community in the different segments of small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, and ileum) using pyrotag sequencing and compare that with the ceca. Gut content samples were collected from each of four adult emus (2 males, 2 females; 5-6 years old) that were free ranged but supplemented with a barley-alfalfa-canola based diet. We amplified the V3-V5 region of 16S rRNA gene to identify the bacterial community using Roche 454 Junior system. After quality trimming, a total of 165,585 sequence reads were obtained from different segments of the small intestine (SI). A total of 701 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were identified in the different segments of small intestine. Firmicutes (14-99%) and Proteobacteria (0.5-76%) were the most predominant bacterial phyla in the small intestine. Based on species richness estimation (Chao1 index), the average number of estimated OTUs in the small intestinal compartments were 148 in Duodenum, 167 in Jejunum, and 85 in Ileum, respectively. Low number of core OTUs identified in each compartment of small intestine across individual birds (Duodenum: 13 OTUs, Jejunum: 2 OTUs, Ileum: 14 OTUs) indicated unique bacterial community in each bird. Moreover, only 2 OTUs (Escherichia and Sinobacteraceae) were identified as core bacteria along the whole small intestine. PICRUSt analysis has indicated that the detoxification of plant material and environmental chemicals seem to be performed by SI microbiota, especially those in the jejunum. The emu cecal microbiome has more genes than SI segments involving in protective or immune response to enteric pathogens. Microbial digestion and fermentation is mostly in the jejunum and ceca. This is the first study to characterize the microbiota of different compartments of the emu intestines via gut samples and not fecal samples. Results from this study allow us to further investigate the influence of the seasonal and physiological changes of intestinal microbiota on the nutrition of emus and indirectly influence the fatty acid composition of emu fat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Dromaiidae*
  • Duodenum
  • Female
  • Ileum
  • Jejunum* / microbiology
  • Male
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S