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Researchers study microbes in cattle to unlock metabolic disease mysteries

January 11, 2010

[Source: Kay Ledbetter for Agrilife News]

VERNON, TX–Switching from warm-season grasses to cool-season forages can give livestock a belly ache, in some cases a deadly one, according to Texas AgriLife Research scientists.

Dr. Bill Pinchak, Texas AgriLife Research animal nutritionist at Vernon, is leading a team of scientists who are using state-of-the-art technology – metagenomics – to determine how changes in diest affect microbial communities in the digestive tract of cattle and how these changes may increase risk of disease.

Metagenomics is a field of molecular microbiology where the presence of a microbe is determined by identifying its DNA in a sample rather than trying to grow the organism in culture, said Dr. Jason Osterstock, AgriLife Research ruminant animal health scientist in Amarillo and part of the team.

The standard steps of a metgenomics experiment (Illustration: K. J. Shelswell).

Pinchak, who is head of the Bloat Research Project, said they want to understand the role of rumen microbial communities in metabolic disease, specifically frothy bloat of cattle grazing winter wheat pastures. Bloat is a costly and sometimes fatal disease of cattle, with an estimated $400 million negative impact on the beef cattle industry.

Their goal is to determine the interactions among rumen microbes that lead to the onset and duration of disease, he said.

Studying individual microbial genus or species in the rumen only provides part of the story, Osterstock said. In fact, the rumen is a complex microbial system comprised of bacteria, protozoa and fungi where the impact of a specific microbial species is dependent upon the activity of other microbes in the system.

Metagenomics is an ideal approach to studying these microbial communities because less than 10 percent of rumen microbes can be grown in culture using routine anaerobic methods, Osterstock said.

Full Story


Dr. Bill Pinchak, 940-552-9941,
Dr. Jason Osterstock, 806-677-5600,

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