MicrobiomeScientificNematode-Microbiome Interaction in the Livestock Industry

8 June 2022by Dana Walsh0
A sheep in a field.

Written by Baris Ozdinc

Intestinal nematode worm parasitism is a world-wide problem with impacts on the livestock industry. A recent article in the Economist details this as a major concern of sheep farmers in Australia and New Zealand that causes the sheep to waste away, and, in severe cases, die. Treatment options are far and few between, as excessive use of drugs have caused the evolution of resistance in the nematodes. However, researchers at the University of Western Australia are investigating countermeasures against the worms within the sheep themselves. Dr. Paz’s research group at the University of Western Australia started a breeding program in which they breed nematode-resistant sheep – those with the fewest nematode eggs. This approach works and appears to be an inheriable trait; the resistant-sheep offspring also have fewer nematode eggs. The mechanism behind how this works, though, is not known. To investigate, Dr. Paz’s group compared the fecal microbiome of high-nematode egg and low-nematode egg sheep breeds. Strikingly, the research group identified systematic differences between the gut microbiome of their sheep breeds. The differences were most notable in the faeces from the small intestine where the worms live. In the short intestine, resistant sheep had richer and more diverse bacterial communities than susceptible sheep. According to the research, the resistant sheep’s bacterial populations contain abundant taxa able to ferment carbohydrates and turn them into short-chain fatty acids. Dr. Paz suspects that genetically resistant sheep may be providing an intestinal environment friendly to bacteria which produce short-chain fatty acids that repel worms or compete with them for carbohydrates. Of course, it could also be worms which are affecting the vulnerable sheep’s microbiome. Dr. Paz’s work suggests that probiotic treatment may be a third option to control nematode infestations in the sheep industry, other than drugs and resistance breeding.

Dana Walsh

Dana Walsh is a microbiome scientist whose career has consisted of a blend of wet bench and computational research. Currently, she is a Microbiome Scientist for CosmosID where she helps clients with custom microbiome analysis and interpretation as well as exploring new tools and methods for microbiome studies. She applies cutting-edge tools to integrate multi-omics data, including taxonomic, functional, meta-transcriptomics and metabolomics data, in order to help clients derive meaning from their results. Her previous work has spanned a range of human microbiome areas and experimental models, from airway to vaginal to gut using cell, mouse, and human models. In her last role at Rebiotix she focused on the analysis and evaluation of complex microbiome data supporting the development of formulations for microbiome-based live biotherapeutic drugs. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (USA), where she investigated the role of the microbiome in cancers of the reproductive tract, including ovarian and endometrial cancer. She received her PhD from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where she studied the impact of inhaled toxins on the airway microbiome in victims of burn and inhalation injury. In her free time she enjoys teaching Zumba classes and hanging out with her three dogs, 7 month old daughter, and husband on the beach! Fun fact: Dana has been to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa!

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