Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Sub-therapeutic antibiotics are widely used as growth promoters in the poultry industry; however, the resulting antibiotic resistance threatens public health. A plant-derived growth promoter, Macleaya cordata extract (MCE), with effective ingredients of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids, is a potential alternative to antibiotic growth promoters. Altered intestinal microbiota play important roles in growth promotion, but the underlying mechanism remains unknown.<h4>Results</h4>We generated 1.64 terabases of metagenomic data from 495 chicken intestinal digesta samples and constructed a comprehensive chicken gut microbial gene catalog (9.04 million genes), which is also the first gene catalog of an animal's gut microbiome that covers all intestinal compartments. Then, we identified the distinctive characteristics and temporal changes in the foregut and hindgut microbiota. Next, we assessed the impact of MCE on chickens and gut microbiota. Chickens fed with MCE had improved growth performance, and major microbial changes were confined to the foregut, with the predominant role of Lactobacillus being enhanced, and the amino acids, vitamins, and secondary bile acids biosynthesis pathways being upregulated, but lacked the accumulation of antibiotic-resistance genes. In comparison, treatment with chlortetracycline similarly enriched some biosynthesis pathways of nutrients in the foregut microbiota, but elicited an increase in antibiotic-producing bacteria and antibiotic-resistance genes.<h4>Conclusion</h4>The reference gene catalog of the chicken gut microbiome is an important supplement to animal gut metagenomes. Metagenomic analysis provides insights into the growth-promoting mechanism of MCE, and underscored the importance of utilizing safe and effective growth promoters.