The result of the latest step in this work has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The paper looked at a subset of microbes – Bifidobacterium, a microbe which dominates the GIT when a neonate is fed a milk diet.
These microbes are considered highly beneficial and the paper looked in detail at how these microbes may be adapting and interacting with the calf GIT.
“Current rearing strategies for dairy and dairy-beef calves typically disrupt ‘mother nature’s’ co-ordinated functional co-development of the microbial community and the calf because it is removed from its mother at a very early age”, Dr Leahy says.
“Of course, it’s not possible to keep the calves with the mum under a dairying system, but it’s certainly different to what is recommended for humans, from a nutritional point of view.”
Researchers were interested in seeing what the impact to microbes would be, under those calf rearing systems, and one of the first things they wanted to look at was Bifidobacterium.
“In humans, these microbes have a versatile and important role in infant gut development. They do a lot of useful things, including preventing the establishment of pathogens and production of a range of beneficial metabolic substrates,” Dr Leahy says.
“Just like their human counterparts, young ruminants are often susceptible to a number of microbial pathogens which can cause diarrheal disease (often referred to as scouring in animals) during their first months of life which can severely affect growth. The idea that Bifidobacterium could be used to provide beneficial effects for young livestock during a time when the risks of morbidity and mortality are high is attractive.”