High-throughput DNA sequencing of the moose rumen from different geographical location reveals a core ruminal methanogenic archaeal diversity and a differential ciliate protozoal diversity.

This project expanded upon my work with moose bacteria from three geographic locations, to explore whether there were differences in methanogenic archaea or ciliated protozoa based on location.

Archaea are microorganisms in their own Domain, as they are neither Bacteria nor Eukaryota, although they often have similarities to organisms found in the other two domains.  Archaea are found in many extreme environments, but those found in the digestive tract of animals and humans come from the phylum Euryarchaeota.   Methanogens require hydrogen to make energy for themselves, and in that process (methanogenesis) methane is created as a byproduct.  In the digestive tract, especially in ruminants where the fermentation of plants creates a lot of hydrogen, the presence of methanogens acts a hydrogen sink and can prevent the build up of hydrogen which would otherwise lower the gut pH and be detrimental to both host and microbes.  To date, it is unclear if methanogens have any other health effect.

Protozoa are single-celled eukaryotes, and depending on which species they are, can be beneficial or pathogenic.  Typically, protozoa in the digestive tract of humans or other monogastrics are pathogens obtained from drinking contaminated water.  However, the digestive tracts of monogastrics (ex. humans) and ruminants (ex. moose) are very different, and the later can support a much different microbial community.  Specifically, protozoa found in ruminants that have cilia to move around (i.e. ciliated protozoa or ciliates) can have a number of roles, including fermentation of fiber or starch, or predation of bacteria and fungi.  As they are so difficult to maintain in culture and study in the lab, the role of protozoa in contributing to host health or methanogenesis is understudied.

Moose methanogen communities were significantly different between moose in Vermont, Norway, and Alaska, but maintained a core of shared taxa across all populations.  This implies that the moose rumen environment (pH, salt content, turnover, host-microbe interactions, etc.) is suitable for only a small number of methanogen species, and that this regulates the community as much as diet might.  Methanogen communities were also different based on sex of the moose, and age/weight.

Figure 2: Diversity of moose rumen methanogens. Members of the RO clade are coloured in blues; members of the SGMT clade are coloured in reds. Mbr., Methanobrevibacter.

On the other hand, protozoal communities were dramatically different between moose in Vermont, Norway, and Alaska, and shared far fewer taxa.  This was surprising, as previous studies on deer had shown a core protozoal community across multiple geographically-separated populations.  These moose populations had not been geographically isolated long, but we hypothesized that diet was a much stronger driver of rumen protozoal diversity than previously thought.

Figure 3: Diversity of the moose rumen protozoa.

Ishaq, S.L., Sundset, M.A., Crouse, J., Wright, A-D.G. 2015. High-throughput DNA sequencing of the moose rumen from different geographical location reveals a core ruminal methanogenic archaeal diversity and a differential ciliate protozoal diversity. Microbial Genetics, 2015(1).  Article


Featured Image; Figure 1: PCoA for moose methanogens (A, C, E) and protozoa (B, D, F). PCoA is coloured by (A, B) gender: female, red; male, blue; (C, D) location: Alaska, red; Norway, green; Vermont, blue; and (E, F) weight class: 1–100 kg, red triangle; 101–200 kg, yellow triangle; 201–300 kg, green down-facing triangle; 301–400 kg, green right-facing triangle, >400 kg (live weight), light blue circle; not available, blue square.

Dissertation: A Comparative Analysis Of The Moose Rumen Microbiota And The Pursuit Of Improving Fibrolytic Systems

As a Ph.D. student, I worked in the laboratory of Dr. André-Denis Wright in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Vermont. My thesis work investigated the microorganisms (bacteria, archaea, and protozoa) in the digestive tract of the moose from several geographical locations. In addition to identifying bacteria and ciliate protozoa using high-throughput sequencing, […]

Design and validation of four new primers for next-generation sequencing to target the 18S rRNA gene of gastrointestinal ciliate protozoa.

If the research tools you require don’t exist- then you must create them yourself.  Such is often the case in working with microbial genomics.  In order to adapt sequencing technology to identify rumen ciliate protozoa, we needed to first design primers which to be used for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in order to amplify enough copies of the 18S rRNA gene for laboratory work.  This involved designing primers in silico, by aligning sequences from the few protozoal 18S rRNA genes publicly-available at the time, in order to identify short sections which were identical across protozoal species.  We then added 18S rRNA gene sequences to our alignment from other Eukaryotes, such as fungi and plants, which we did not want to amplify, to ensure that our primers would target only the desired taxa.  We also needed to design a primer set which would work well in the laboratory; in particular which had an optimal size for the sequencing technology on hand, and which would provide enough information in the portion of the gene capture to identify which protozoal species the DNA in our rumen samples originated from.

Ishaq, S.L., Wright, A-D.G. 2014. Design and validation of four new primers for next-generation sequencing to target the 18S rRNA gene of gastrointestinal ciliate protozoa. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 80(17):5515-5521.  Article

Four new primers and one published primer were used to PCR amplify hyper-variable regions within the protozoal 18S rRNA gene to determine which primer pair provided the best identification and statistical analysis. PCR amplicons of 394 to 498 bases were generated from three primer sets, sequenced using Roche 454 pyrosequencing with Titanium, and analyzed using the BLAST (NCBI) database and MOTHUR ver. 1.29. The protozoal diversity of rumen contents from moose in Alaska was assessed. In the present study, primer set 1, P-SSU-316F + GIC758R (amplicon = 482 bases) gave the best representation of diversity using BLAST classification, and amplified Entodinium simplex and Ostracodinium spp., which were not amplified by the other two primer sets. Primer set 2, GIC1080F + GIC1578R (amplicon = 498 bases), had similar BLAST results and a slightly higher percentage of sequences that identified with a higher sequence identity. Primer sets 1 and 2 are recommended for use in ruminants. However, primer set 1 may be inadequate to determine protozoal diversity in non-ruminants. Amplicons created by primer set 1 were indistinguishable for certain species within the genera Bandia, Blepharocorys, Polycosta, Tetratoxum, or between Hemiprorodon gymnoprosthium and Prorodonopsis coli, none of which are normally found in the rumen.


Figure 1: A map of the full-length protozoal 18S rRNA gene, including variable (V1-V9) and rumen ciliate signature regions (SR1-SR4), and showing the respective amplicons of the three primer sets used in the present study.

Figure 2: Taxonomy and proportion of unique pyrosequences using NCBI (BLAST), by forward primers P-SSU-316F (Sylvester et al., 2004), GIC1080F (present study), and GIC1184F (present study). All sequences used passed all quality assurance steps outlined in Methods.