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Livestock industries playing catch up with probiotics for animal health

Published:23 June 2022

A woman in a white lab coat and safety glasses looks through a table top microscope

Professor Dana Stanley

Probiotics for gut health in humans is now commonplace, but a group of CQUniversity agriculture researchers say the impact of intestinal health on livestock production is still relatively misunderstood despite recent technological advances.

CQUniversity’s Molecular Microbiology and Animal Health team, led by Professor Dana Stanley, collaborated with researchers from CQUniversity’s Precision Livestock Management team to examine the complexities of intestinal microbiota health and found significant knowledge gaps still remain.

Their conclusions, published in the international journal Animal Production Science, will be presented by Professor Stanley at the Australian Association of Animal Sciences Conference in Cairns next month.

In the paper, CQUniversity’s animal health experts presented the good and the bad of the amplicon sequencing methodology, pointing at a number of issues with the methodology and common errors in data interpretation that may cloud the true state of these microbial communities.

It said microbiota was widely recognised as an important part of animal health, but a shortage of bioinformatics and data interpretation skills often led to livestock microbiota research lagging behind the general knowledge base.

“Misinformation, misinterpretation and the overstating of outcomes and consequences of microbiota results occur regularly in published scientific literature,” the research team states.

It said many of the challenges of microbiome science related to the high variability of microbiota between individual animals, as well as between breeds, and how quickly it could change due to alterations in health, feed or environmental factors.

It also noted more attention should also be given to the choice in methodologies for gathering microbiota data from livestock animals.

“Faecal samples will tell a very different story from samples collected from areas inside the animal such as the caecum, duodenum or rumen,” the paper states.

In addition, the research team said the marker gene typically chosen to gather data on the microbiota, 16S rRNA, was being increasingly criticised amongst experts in the field.

“Evidence is growing that other candidates could have provided better information,” the research paper states.

It said the combination of these factors could have a significant impact on research outcomes and raise questions about the efficacy of new products which have flooded the livestock market in recent years.

Despite these shortfalls, the CQUniversity team said microbiome research was far from slowing down and the focus was now shifting from productivity increases to application in the animal welfare domain.

The presentation by Dr Stanley is just one of a number to be delivered by CQUniversity researchers at the AAAS Conference, including Precision Livestock Management researcher Dr Cara Wilson, whose current project is assessing how emerging on-animal tracking technologies can be linked with livestock health and meat quality outcome data to improve the red meat traceability system.

Professor Simon Quigley will share his research on liveweight gain of intensively fed Rangeland goats and Dr Jaime Manning will present her research into the extreme distances travelled by rangeland sheep in Australia.

Dr Thomas Williams will make two separate presentations on how walk-over-weigh and drafting technology can increase the validity and value of on-property cattle research and how satellite data can be used to predict and detect calving in extensive grazing systems.

CQUniversity’s Dr Anita Chang and PhD student Justin Macor will also present their research findings comparing eutocia and dystocia, using both accelerometer ear tags and satellite tracking collars.

CQUniversity is a silver sponsor of the 34th Biennial Australian Association of Animal Sciences, to be held in Cairns from July 5-7.