A study on the effect of diet particle size got published!

I’m pleased to announce that the “particle size” project is officially published!  I inherited this dataset of bacterial 16S rRNA sequences in 2015, while working for the Yeoman Lab.  This collaborative project combined nutrition, animal production, and microbial ecology to look at the effect of diet particle size on lambs and their rumen bacteria. While small in size, the project was large in scope – despite everything we know about how different diet components encourage different microbial communities to survive in the digestive tract, we know practically nothing about how the size of the particles in that diet might contribute.

Ruminants, like sheep, goats, cows, deer, moose, etc.,  have a four-chambered stomach, the largest of which is called the rumen.  The rumen houses symbiotic microorganisms which break down plant fibers that the animal can’t digest on its own.  It’s estimated that up to 80% of a ruminant’s energy need is met from the volatile fatty acids (also called short-chain fatty acids) that bacteria produce from digesting fiber, and that up to 85% of a ruminant’s protein need is met from microbial proteins.

A lot of factors can be manipulated to help get the most out of one’s diet, including adjusting ingredients for water content, palatability, ease of chewing, and how easy the ingredients are to digest.  For example, highly fibrous foods with larger particles/pieces require more chewing, as well as a longer time spent in the rumen digesting so that microorganisms have plenty of time to break the chemical bonds of large molecules.  Smaller food particles can reduce the time and effort spent chewing, allow for more surface area on plant fibers for microorganisms to attach to and digest faster, and speed up the movement of food through the digestive tract.  On the other hand, moving food too quickly could reduce the amount of time microorganisms can spend digesting, or time the ruminant can absorb nutrients across their GI tract lumen, or cause slow-growing microbial species to wash out.

Pelleted-hay alfalfa feed increases sheep wether weight gain and rumen bacterial richness over loose-hay alfalfa feed.

Suzanne L. Ishaq1, Medora M. Lachman2, Benjamin A. Wenner3, Amy Baeza2, Molly Butler2, Emily Gates2, Sarah Olivo1, Julie Buono Geddes2, Patrick Hatfield2, Carl J. Yeoman2

  1. Biology and the Built Environment Center, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, United States of America
  2. Department of Animal and Range Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, United States of America
  3. Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America


Diet composed of smaller particles can improve feed intake, digestibility, and animal growth or health, but in ruminant species can reduce rumination and buffering – the loss of which may inhibit fermentation and digestibility.  However, the explicit effect of particle size on the rumen microbiota remains untested, despite their crucial role in digestion.  We evaluated the effects of reduced particle size on rumen microbiota by feeding long-stem (loose) alfalfa hay compared to a ground and pelleted version of the same alfalfa in yearling sheep wethers during a two-week experimental period.  In situ digestibility of the pelleted diet was greater at 48 h compared with loose hay; however, distribution of residual fecal particle sizes in sheep did not differ between the dietary treatments at any time point (day 7 or 14).  Both average daily gain and feed efficiency were greater for the wethers consuming the pelleted diet.  Observed bacterial richness was very low at the end of the adaptation period and increased over the course of the study, suggesting the rumen bacterial community was still in flux after two weeks of adaptation.  The pelleted-hay diet group had a greater increase in bacterial richness, including common fibrolytic rumen inhabitants. The pelleted diet was positively associated with several Succiniclasticum, a Prevotella, and uncultured taxa in the Ruminococcaceae and Rickenellaceae families and Bacteroidales order. Pelleting an alfalfa hay diet for sheep does shift the rumen microbiome, though the interplay of diet particle size, retention and gastrointestinal transit time, microbial fermentative and hydrolytic activity, and host growth or health is still largely unexplored.

A collaborative paper on zinc and rumen bacteria in sheep got published!

Zinc is an important mineral in your diet; it’s required by many of your enzymes and having too much or too little can cause health problems. We know quite a bit about how important zinc is to sheep, in particular for their growth, immune system, and fertility.  We also know that organically- versus inorganically-sourced zinc differs in its bio-availability, or how easy it is for cells to access and use it.  Surprisingly, we know nothing about how different zinc formulations might affect gut microbiota, despite the knowledge that microorganisms may also need zinc.

This collaborative study was led by Dr. Whit Stewart and his then-graduate student, Chad Page, while they were at Montana State University (they are now both at the University of Wyoming).   Chad’s work focused on how different sources of zinc affected sheep growth and performance (previously presented, publication forthcoming), and I put together this  companion paper examining the effects on rumen bacteria.

The pre-print is available now for Journal of Animal Science members, and the finished proof should be available soon. JAS is the main publication for the American Society of Animal Science, and one of the flagship journals in the field.

Zinc amino acid supplementation alters yearling ram rumen bacterial communities but zinc sulfate supplementation does not.

Ishaq, S.L., Page, C.M., Yeoman, C.J., Murphy, T.W., Van Emon, M.L., Stewart, W.C. 2018. Journal of Animal Science. Accepted. Article.


Despite the body of research into Zn for human and animal health and productivity, very little work has been done to discern whether this benefit is exerted solely on the host organism, or whether there is some effect of dietary Zn upon the gastrointestinal microbiota, particularly in ruminants. We hypothesized that 1) supplementation with Zn would alter the rumen bacterial community in yearling rams, but that 2) supplementation with either inorganically-sourced ZnSO4, or a chelated Zn amino acid complex, which was more bioavailable, would affect the rumen bacterial community differently. Sixteen purebred Targhee yearling rams were utilized in an 84 d completely-randomized design, and allocated to one of three pelleted dietary treatments: control diet without fortified Zn (~1 x NRC), a diet fortified with a Zn amino acid complex (~2 x NRC), and a diet fortified with ZnSO4 (~2 x NRC). Rumen bacterial community was assessed using Illumina MiSeq of the V4-V6 region of the 16S rRNA gene. One hundred and eleven OTUs were found with > 1% abundance across all samples. The genera PrevotellaSolobacteriumRuminococcusButyrivibrioOlsenellaAtopobium, and the candidate genus Saccharimonas were abundant in all samples. Total rumen bacterial evenness and diversity in rams were reduced by supplementation with a Zn-amino-acid complex, but not in rams supplemented with an equal concentration of ZnSO4, likely due to differences in bioavailability between organic and inorganically-sourced supplement formulations. A number of bacterial genera were altered by Zn supplementation, but only the phylum Tenericutes was significantly reduced by ZnSO4 supplementation, suggesting that either Zn supplementation formulation could be utilized without causing a high-level shift in the rumen bacterial community which could have negative consequences for digestion and animal health.

Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A collaborative project on juniper diets in lambs was published!

In 2015, while working in the Yeoman Lab, I was invited to perform the sequence analysis on some samples from a previously-run diet study.  The study was part of ongoing research by Dr. Travis Whitney at Texas A & M on the use of juniper as a feed additive for sheep.  The three main juniper species in Texas can pose a problem- while they are native, they have significantly increased the number of acres they occupy due to changes in climate, water availability, and human-related land use.  And, juniper can out-compete other rangeland species, which can make forage less palatable, less nutritious, or unhealthy for livestock.  Juniper contains essential oils and compounds which can affect some microorganisms living in their gut.  We wanted to know how the bacterial community in the rumen might restructure while on different concentrations of juniper and urea.

Coupled with the animal health and physiology aspect led by Travis, we published two companion papers in the Journal of Animal Science.  We had also previously presented these results at the Joint Annual Meeting of the American Society for Animal Science, the American Dairy Science Association, and the Canadian Society for Animal Science in Salt Lake City, UT in 2016.  Travis’ presentation can be found here, and mine can be found here.  The article can be found here.

Ground redberry juniper and urea in supplements fed to Rambouillet ewe lambs.

Part 1: Growth, blood serum and fecal characteristics, T.R. Whitney

Part 2: Ewe lamb rumen microbial communities, S. L. Ishaq, C. J. Yeoman, and T. R. Whitney

This study evaluated effects of ground redberry juniper (Juniperus pinchotii) and urea in dried distillers grains with solubles-based supplements fed to Rambouillet ewe lambs (n = 48) on rumen physiological parameters and bacterial diversity. In a randomized study (40 d), individually-penned lambs were fed ad libitum ground sorghum-sudangrass hay and of 1 of 8 supplements (6 lambs/treatment; 533 g/d; as-fed basis) in a 4 × 2 factorial design with 4 concentrations of ground juniper (15%, 30%, 45%, or 60% of DM) and 2 levels of urea (1% or 3% of DM). Increasing juniper resulted in minor changes in microbial β-diversity (PERMANOVA, pseudo F = 1.33, P = 0.04); however, concentrations of urea did not show detectable broad-scale differences at phylum, family, or genus levels according to ANOSIM (P> 0.05), AMOVA (P > 0.10), and PERMANOVA (P > 0.05). Linear discriminant analysis indicated some genera were specific to certain dietary treatments (P < 0.05), though none of these genera were present in high abundance; high concentrations of juniper were associated with Moraxella and Streptococcus, low concentrations of urea were associated with Fretibacterium, and high concentrations of urea were associated with Oribacterium and PyramidobacterPrevotella were decreased by juniper and urea. RuminococcusButyrivibrio, and Succiniclasticum increased with juniper and were positively correlated (Spearman’s, P < 0.05) with each other but not to rumen factors, suggesting a symbiotic interaction. Overall, there was not a juniper × urea interaction for total VFA, VFA by concentration or percent total, pH, or ammonia (P > 0.29). When considering only percent inclusion of juniper, ruminal pH and proportion of acetic acid linearly increased (P < 0.001) and percentage of butyric acid linearly decreased (P = 0.009). Lamb ADG and G:F were positively correlated with Prevotella(Spearman’s, P < 0.05) and negatively correlated with Synergistaceae, the BS5 group, and Lentisphaerae. Firmicutes were negatively correlated with serum urea nitrogen, ammonia, total VFA, total acetate, and total propionate. Overall, modest differences in bacterial diversity among treatments occurred in the abundance or evenness of several OTUs, but there was not a significant difference in OTU richness. As diversity was largely unchanged, the reduction in ADG and lower-end BW was likely due to reduced DMI rather than a reduction in microbial fermentative ability.

Manuscript published on the effect of low/high fat diets on health and intestinal bacteria

Several years ago, during my Ph.D. at the University of Vermont, I provided wet-lab and DNA sequence analysis work for a project investigating the health effects of a low or high fat diet on mice with Dr. Huawei Zeng of the USDA Agricultural Research Service.  It was just recently published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry!


Consumption of an obesigenic/high-fat diet (HFD) is associated with a high colon cancer risk and may alter the gut microbiota. To test the hypothesis that long-term high-fat (HF) feeding accelerates inflammatory process and changes gut microbiome composition, C57BL/6 mice were fed HFD (45% energy) or a low-fat (LF) diet (10% energy) for 36 weeks. At the end of the study, body weights in the HF group were 35% greater than those in the LF group. These changes were associated with dramatic increases in body fat composition, inflammatory cell infiltration, inducible nitric oxide synthase protein concentration and cell proliferation marker (Ki67) in ileum and colon. Similarly, β-catenin expression was increased in colon (but not ileum). Consistent with gut inflammation phenotype, we also found that plasma leptin, interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor α concentrations were also elevated in mice fed the HFD, indicative of chronic inflammation. Fecal DNA was extracted and the V1–V3 hypervariable region of the microbial 16S rRNA gene was amplified using primers suitable for 454 pyrosequencing. Compared to the LF group, the HF group had high proportions of bacteria from the family Lachnospiraceae/Streptococcaceae, which is known to be involved in the development of metabolic disorders, diabetes and colon cancer. Taken together, our data demonstrate, for the first time, that long-term HF consumption not only increases inflammatory status but also accompanies an increase of colonic β-catenin signaling and Lachnospiraceae/Streptococcaceae bacteria in the hind gut of C57BL/6 mice.