A collaborative project got published on the biogeography of the calf digestive tract!

Most studies that examine the microbial diversity of the gastrointestinal tract only look at one or two sample sites, usually the mouth, the rumen in ruminant animals, or the feces.  It can be difficult, expensive, invasive, or fatal to get samples from deep inside the intestinal tract; however many studies have pointed out that anatomical location and local environmental factors (like temperature, pH, host cells, nutrient availability, and exposure to UV light) can dramatically change a microbial community.  Thus, the microbes that we find in feces aren’t always what we would find in the stomach or along the intestines.  On top of that, certain microorganisms have been shown to closely associate with or attach to host cells, and the diversity of microbes next to host tissues can be different from what’s at the center of the intestines (the digesta).

This large, collaborative project took samples from nine different sites along the digestive tract of calves over the first 21 days of life to determine how body sites differed from each other, how sites changed over time as the calf matured, and how the lumen-associated bacteria would differ from the digesta-associated bacteria.  Samples from the mothers were also taken to understand how maternal microbial influence would affect body sites over time.

This paper was just published in  Scientific Reports, and was something I had previously presented on 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.

Biogeographical Differences in the Influence of Maternal Microbial Sources on the Early Successional Development of the Bovine Neonatal Gastrointestinal tract. Carl J. Yeoman, Suzanne L. Ishaq, Elena Bichi, Sarah K. Olivo, James Lowe, Brian M. Aldridge. 2018. Scientific Reports.


The impact of maternal microbial influences on the early choreography of the neonatal calf microbiome were investigated. Luminal content and mucosal scraping samples were collected from ten locations in the calf gastrointestinal tract (GIT) over the first 21 days of life, along with postpartum maternal colostrum, udder skin, and vaginal scrapings. Microbiota were found to vary by anatomical location, between the lumen and mucosa at each GIT location, and differentially enriched for maternal vaginal, skin, and colostral microbiota. Most calf sample sites exhibited a gradual increase in α-diversity over the 21 days beginning the first few days after birth. The relative abundance of Firmicutes was greater in the proximal GIT, while Bacteroidetes were greater in the distal GIT. Proteobacteria exhibited greater relative abundances in mucosal scrapings relative to luminal content. Forty-six percent of calf luminal microbes and 41% of mucosal microbes were observed in at-least one maternal source, with the majority being shared with microbes on the skin of the udder. The vaginal microbiota were found to harbor and uniquely share many common and well-described fibrolytic rumen bacteria, as well as methanogenic archaea, potentially indicating a role for the vagina in populating the developing rumen and reticulum with microbes important to the nutrition of the adult animal.

A collaborative paper on how rumen acidosis affects fungi and protozoa got published!

Ruminal acidosis is a condition in which the pH of the rumen is considerably lower than normal, and if severe enough can cause damage to the stomach and localized symptoms, or systemic illness in cows.  Often, these symptoms result from the low pH reducing the ability of microorganisms to ferment fiber, or by killing them outright.  Since the cow can’t break down most of its plant-based diet without these microorganisms, this disruption can cause all sorts of downstream health problems.  Negative health effects can also occur when the pH is somewhat lowered, or is lowered briefly but repeatedly, even if the cow isn’t showing outward clinical symptoms.  This is known as sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA), and can also cause serious side effects for cows and an economic loss for producers.

In livestock, acidosis usually occurs when ruminants are abruptly switched to a highly-fermentable diet- something with a lot of grain/starch that causes a dramatic increase in bacterial fermentation and a buildup of lactate in the rumen.  To prevent this, animals are transitioned incrementally from one diet to the next over a period of days or weeks.  Another strategy is to add something to the diet to help buffer rumen pH, such as a probiotic.  One of the most common species used to help treat or prevent acidosis is a yeast; Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

This paper was part of a larger study on S. cerevisiae use in cattle to treat SARA, the effects of which on animal production as well as bacterial diversity and functionality have already been published by an old friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Ousama AlZahal, and several others.  In total, very little work has been done on the effect of SARA or S. cerevisiae treatment on the fungal or protozoal diversity in the rumen, which is what I added to this study.  I was very pleased to be invited to analyze and interpret some of the data, as well as to present the results at a conference in Chicago earlier this year.  The article itself has just been published in Frontiers in Microbiology!

An investigation into rumen fungal and protozoal diversity in three rumen fractions, during high-fiber or grain-induced sub-acute ruminal acidosis conditions, with or without active dry yeast supplementation.

Authors: Suzanne L. Ishaq, Ousama AlZahal, Nicola Walker, Brian McBride

Sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) is a gastrointestinal functional disorder in livestock characterized by low rumen pH, which reduces rumen function, microbial diversity, host performance, and host immune function. Dietary management is used to prevent SARA, often with yeast supplementation as a pH buffer. Almost nothing is known about the effect of SARA or yeast supplementation on ruminal protozoal and fungal diversity, despite their roles in fiber degradation. Dairy cows were switched from a high-fiber to high-grain diet abruptly to induce SARA, with and without active dry yeast (ADY, Saccharomyces cerevisiae) supplementation, and sampled from the rumen fluid, solids, and epimural fractions to determine microbial diversity using the protozoal 18S rRNA and the fungal ITS1 genes via Illumina MiSeq sequencing. Diet-induced SARA dramatically increased the number and abundance of rare fungal taxa, even in fluid fractions where total reads were very low, and reduced protozoal diversity. SARA selected for more lactic-acid utilizing taxa, and fewer fiber-degrading taxa. ADY treatment increased fungal richness (OTUs) but not diversity (Inverse Simpson, Shannon), but increased protozoal richness and diversity in some fractions. ADY treatment itself significantly (P < 0.05) affected the abundance of numerous fungal genera as seen in the high-fiber diet: Lewia, Neocallimastix, and Phoma were increased, while Alternaria, Candida Orpinomyces, and Piromyces spp. were decreased. Likewise, for protozoa, ADY itself increased Isotricha intestinalis but decreased Entodinium furca spp. Multivariate analyses showed diet type was most significant in driving diversity, followed by yeast treatment, for AMOVA, ANOSIM, and weighted UniFrac. Diet, ADY, and location were all significant factors for fungi (PERMANOVA, P = 0.0001, P = 0.0452, P = 0.0068, Monte Carlo correction, respectively, and location was a significant factor (P = 0.001, Monte Carlo correction) for protozoa. Diet-induced SARA shifts diversity of rumen fungi and protozoa and selects against fiber-degrading species. Supplementation with ADY mitigated this reduction in protozoa, presumptively by triggering microbial diversity shifts (as seen even in the high-fiber diet) that resulted in pH stabilization. ADY did not recover the initial community structure that was seen in pre-SARA conditions.

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.

Presentation on maternal influences on the calf digestive tract from JAM 2016 available!

The video presentation of my work on the effects of maternal biotic influences on the developing calf digestive tract bacteria is finally available for public use!

Abstract 1522: Influence of colostrum on the microbiological diversity of the developing bovine intestinal tract

Suzanne L Ishaq, Elena Bichi, Sarah K Olivo, James Lowe, Carl J Yeoman, Brian M Alridge


Paper published on the gut diversity of reindeer on a lichen diet

A manuscript that I helped co-author, “Rumen and cecum microbiomes in reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) are changed in response to a lichen diet and may effect enteric methane emissions” was just accepted for publication in PLOS ONE.  In 2012 I went to Norway to apprentice for two weeks in the lab of Dr. Monica Sundset, and in 2013, Monica’s graduate student Alex came to the University of Vermont to apprentice in Dr. Andre Wright’s lab, where I taught him quantitative real-time PCR and some bioinformatics.  Alex performed a feeding trial back in Norway, in which reindeer were fed a lichen-based diet, in order to assess changes in microbial diversity.  Lichens contain usnic acid, which is toxic to ruminants.  Reindeer; however, host some unique bacteria which degrade usnic acid in the rumen and allow the reindeer to eat them without dietary problems.



Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) are large Holarctic herbivores whose heterogeneous diet has led to the development of a unique gastrointestinal microbiota, essential for the digestion of arctic flora, which may include a large proportion of lichens during winter. Lichens are rich in plant secondary metabolites, which may affect members of the gut microbial consortium, such as the methane-producing methanogenic archaea. Little is known about the effect of lichen consumption on the rumen and cecum microbiotas and how this may affect methanogenesis in reindeer. Here, we examined the effects of dietary lichens on the reindeer gut microbiota, especially methanogens. Samples from the rumen and cecum were collected from two groups of reindeer, fed either lichens (Ld: n = 4), or a standard pelleted feed (Pd: n = 3). Microbial densities (methanogens, bacteria and protozoa) were quantified using quantitative real-time PCR and methanogen and bacterial diversities were determined by 454 pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA genes.

In general, the density of methanogens were not significantly affected (p>0.05) by the intake of lichens. Methanobrevibacter constituted the main archaeal genus (>95% of reads), with Mbr. thaueri CW as the dominant species in both groups of reindeer. Bacteria belonging to the uncharacterized Ruminococcaceae and the genus Prevotella were the dominant phylotypes in the rumen and cecum, in both diets (ranging between 16–38% total sequences). Bacteria belonging to the genus Ruminococcus (3.5% to 0.6%; p = 0.001) and uncharacterized phylotypes within the order Bacteroidales (8.4% to 1.3%; p = 0.027), were significantly decreased in the rumen of lichen-fed reindeer, but not in the cecum (p = 0.2 and p = 0.087, respectively). UniFrac-based analyses showed archaeal and bacterial libraries were significantly different between diets, in both the cecum and the rumen (vegan::Adonis: pseudo-F<0.05). Based upon previous literature, we suggest that the altered methanogen and bacterial profiles may account for expected lower methane emissions from lichen-fed reindeer.”