The potential for growth and feed efficiency in turkey poults directly correlates with the early development of the intestinal epithelium. Although the metabolic aspects of enteric maturation have been studied, little is known about the ultrastructural development of the enteric epithelium in the turkey embryo and poult.
The objective of this study was to document the morphological and ultrastructural development of the jejunum mucosa in turkeys, from 15 d of incubation (embryonic day; E) to 12 d post hatch. Intestinal samples from 4 embryos or poults were collected and analyzed by light and electron microscopy (transmission and scanning).
In addition, amniotic fluid volume was determined in 6 eggs from E15 to E25. Longitudinal previllus ridges at E15 gradually formed zigzag patterns that led to the formation of 2 parallel lines of mature villi by E25.
The volume of amniotic fluid was rapidly depleted as the embryo swallowed it between E19 and E25. During this period, a major increase occurs in villus height, the apical end of epithelial cells is gradually tightened by the junctional complex, and mature goblet cells are visible at the apical end of villi. Villus height steadily increases until reaching a plateau at 8 d.
Villi morphology shifts gradually from finger-like projections before hatch to leaf-like projections by 12 d. At this age, the enteric epithelium is in intimate association with microbes such as segmented filamentous bacteria. The profound morphological adaptations of the turkey gut epithelium in response to amniotic fluid swallowing before hatch, and dietary factors and bacteria after hatch, demonstrate the plasticity of the enteric epithelium at this time.
The supplementation of enteric modulators before hatch (in ovo feeding) and after hatch has the potential to shape gut maturation and enhance the growth performance of turkey poults.