Influence of wet distillers grains diets on beef cattle fecal bacterial community structure
© Rice et al; BioMed Central Ltd. 2012
Received: 29 September 2011
Accepted: 24 February 2012
Published: 24 February 2012
The high demand for ethanol in the U.S. has generated large stocks of wet distillers grains (DG), a byproduct from the manufacture of ethanol from corn and sorghum grains. Little is known, however, about the potential influence of dietary DG on fecal microbial community structure. A better understanding of the microbial population in beef cattle feces could be an important monitoring tool to facilitate goals of improving nutrient management, increasing animal growth performance and decreasing odors and/or shedding of pathogens. Five diets consisting of a traditional diet fed to finishing beef cattle in the Southern High Plains of Texas-CON (steam-flaked corn control with 0% DG), and four concentrations of DG in the dietary dry matter; 10 C (10% corn-based DG), 5S (5% sorghum-based DG), 10S (10% sorghum DG), and 15S (15% sorghum DG) were fed to steers at the Texas Tech University Burnett Animal Center. Diets were essentially isonitrogenous with a formulated crude protein value of 13.5%.
Fecal grab samples were obtained from 20 steers (n = 4 per diet) and the barcoded DNA pyrosequencing method was used to generate 127,530 16S operational taxonomic units (OTUs). A total of 24 phyla were observed, distributed amongst all beef cattle on all diets, revealing considerable animal to animal variation, however only six phyla (core set) were observed in all animals regardless of dietary treatment. The average abundance and range of abundance, respectively of the core phyla were as follows: Firmicutes (61%, 19 to 83%), Bacteroidetes (28%, 11 to 63%), Proteobacteria (3%, 0.34 to 17.5%), Tenericutes (0.15%, 0.0 to 0.35%), Nitrospirae (0.11%, 0.03 to 0.22%), and Fusobacteria (0.086%, 0.017 to 0.38%). Feeding DG-based diets resulted in significant shifts in the fecal microbial community structure compared with the traditional CON. Four low abundance phyla significantly responded to dietary treatments: Synergistetes (p = 0.01), WS3 (p = 0.054), Actinobacteria (p = 0.06), and Spirochaetes (p = 0.06).
This is, to our knowledge, the first study using this method to survey the fecal microbiome of beef cattle fed various concentrations of wet DG. Comparison of our results with other cattle DNA sequencing studies of beef and dairy cattle feces from a variety of geographical locations and different management practices identifies a core set of three phyla shared across all cattle. These three phyla, in order of relative abundance are; Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria. The presence of large animal-to-animal variation in cattle microbiome was noted in our study as well as by others.
The high demand for ethanol in the U.S. has generated large stocks of wet distillers grains (DG) derived as a byproduct from the manufacture of ethanol from corn and sorghum grains. Ethanol production is expected to increase several fold due to the high demand and cost of foreign oil . Energy and protein dense DGs are attractive for use as a feed for beef cattle finishing diets; however little is known about the potential influence of dietary DG on fecal microbial community structure. A better understanding of the microbial population in beef cattle feces could be important in improving nutrient management, increasing animal growth performance, and decreasing odors and/or shedding of pathogens. A variety of emissions such as ammonia, volatile fatty acids, and hundreds of volatile organic compounds  have been tied to beef cattle manure (reviewed by [3–5]). Volatilization of ammonia has been linked to crude protein content in the diet fed and increased amounts of excreted urinary N . Previous studies suggested an association between dried distillers grains (DDGS) feeding and an increased prevalence and fecal shedding of the foodborne pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 in cattle [7–9].
A small number of studies have used culture-independent 16S rRNA-based  and culture-dependent 16S rRNA-based methods with dairy cattle feces [11, 12]. Clostridium spp were identified as the most dominant taxa across all lactating dairy cows (19% average abundance, range 13.9-25.4%) followed by Bacteroides spp (9.26%, 5.2-13.7% respectively) using the culture-independent approach . In this study of Holstein dairy cows (n = 20), 274 different bacterial species were detected corresponding to 142 separate genera . Several thousand sequences were obtained per sample enabling the detection of populations below 0.1% abundance. Using culture-dependent methods, a total of 284 16S rRNA clones were obtained from three Holstein steers and classified at the 98% sequence similarity level . The dominant phyla observed were: Firmicutes (81.3%), Bacteroidetes (14.4%), Actinobacteria (2.5%), and Proteobacteria (1.4%). A comparison of dairy cattle fed a control diet or fed a diet supplemented with monensin using the culture-dependent 16S rRNA method returned 6,912 16S rRNA genes . Nearly equivalent abundance levels of Firmicutes (36.4-46.5%) and Bacteroidetes (40.5-54.9%) were observed across the six lactating Holstein cows with Proteobacteria comprising the next most abundant group (1.9-3.5%).
Culture-dependent and culture-independent 16S rRNA methods were also applied with studies involving beef cattle [13–15]. Utilizing classical full length 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis a total of 1,906 OTUs (97% OTU designation) were identified from six cattle . A core set of phyla were observed based on 24 OTUs comprised of 1,253 sequences (1.2% of OTUs obtained) with 1,348 OTUs found only in individual libraries. Seven phyla were found within six animals with three dominant taxonomic groups; Firmicutes, (62.8% of the OTUs), Bacteroidetes (29.5% of the OTUs) and Proteobacteria (4.4% of the OTUs). In another small study of beef cattle (n = 6) the DNA pyrosequencing method was applied to the comparison of the effects of three diets on ruminal (fistulated Jersey cows, n = 3) and fecal (Angus steers) bacterial assemblages . Three diets (n = two cattle per diet, blocked by breed) in which of 0, 25, or 50% of the concentrate portion of the diet was replaced with dried distillers grains (DDGS) plus solubles were compared. Over 400 different bacterial species were detected that belonged to 56 separate genera from ruminal samples across all three diets. In all fecal samples, more than 540 different bacterial species were detected corresponding to 94 separate genera. The 25 most common genera that accounted for over 85% of the ruminal and fecal bacterial populations were identified. The Firmicutes: Bacteroidetes ratio tended to decrease as the proportion of DDGs increased.
In a much larger study involving 30 cattle distributed across geographically different locations and six different feeding operations (n = 5 cattle per operation) the DNA pyrosequencing method (633,877 high-quality reads) was used to assess fecal microbial community assemblages . The majority of sequences were distributed across four phyla: Firmicutes (55.2%), Bacteroidetes (25.4%), Tenericutes (2.9%), and Proteobacteria (2.5%). Core taxa were observed across 5 different phyla: Actinobacteria (0.11% of all pyrotags; 0.67% of shared taxa), Bacteroidetes (5.7% of all; 13.3% of shared taxa), Cyanobacteria (0.08% of all; 3.33% of shared taxa), Firmicutes (17.5% of all; 73.3% of shared taxa), and Tenericutes (0.96% of all; 3.33% of shared taxa). Using sequence-based clustering and taxonomic analyses, less variability was observed within a particular management practice/location than among different management practices. Animal feeding operations seemed to influence bovine fecal bacterial communities at the phylum and family taxonomic levels much more so than geographic location of the feedlot. Lastly, overall bacterial community composition seemed to be strongly influenced by fecal starch concentrations. The most responsive phyla to diet were Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria. The relative abundance of Bacteroidetes increased with increasing fecal starch concentration, whereas, the abundance of Firmicutes decreased with increasing fecal starch concentrations.
In the present study, we used the barcode DNA pyrosequencing technique to evaluate the influence of five beef cattle diets on fecal microbial assemblages. The diets consisted of a traditional diet feed beef cattle in the Southern High Plains of Texas-Con (steam-flaked corn or 0% DG), and four diets containing different percentages of DGs in the dietary dry matter; 10 C (10% corn DG), 5S (5% sorghum DG), 10S (10% sorghum DG), and 15S (15% sorghum DG). The barcoded DNA pyrosequencing method was used to generate 16S OTUs dataset. The 16S OTUs dataset was assigned to various taxonomic classes and each phylogenetic level was analyzed using a variety of statistical tests including UniFrac procedures, hierarchal cluster analysis, distance based redundancy analysis (dbRDA), and One-way ANOVA to test the influence of dietary treatments on microbial populations. We describe significant changes in microbial community structure and diversity that is influenced by these different DGs diets.
General DNA sequencing observations
Distribution of 16S OTUs amongst beef cattle fed wet DG
No 16S OTUs
Influence of DGs on fecal microbiota-phyla
Four phyla were observed to have a response to dietary treatments (Additional file 1: Figure S1a-d). These are Synergistetes (p = 0.010), WS3 (p = 0.05), Actinobacteria (p = 0.06), and Spirochaetes (p = 0.06).
Distribution of bacterial class, order and families by treatment
Influence of DGs on fecal microbiota-genera
A total of 937 bacterial species were observed distributed among 446 genera across all fecal samples (data not shown). A double hierarchal dendrogram was constructed using the UPGMA clustering method and Manhattan distance method with no scaling (NCSS 2007, Kaysville, UT). The influence of DG diets on the fecal microbiome was apparent from double hierarchal cluster analysis on the top 60 most abundant genera (≥ 97.5% of total bacterial genera observed) and clustered by dietary treatment (Figure 4). With respect to diets, the least apparent phylogenetic distance (based on 16S OTUs distance) observed within the top cluster was with the 10 C diet (suggesting greatest similarity) and the most was with the 5S diets (most diverse). Prevotella and Clostridium occurred together in their own separate cluster, whereas Oscillospira, Bacteroides, Ruminococcus, Eubacterium, and Oscillibacter resided in the next most distant cluster. The other 53 genera cohabited in another main cluster. For animal 255 the microbial community seemed to be most unlike the other animals and this was apparently a result of a high relative abundance of Bacteroidetes and a low relative abundance of Firmicutes (Figure 3a). The average abundance by treatment of the top 60 genera (depicted in heatmap, Figure 4) and the response of taxa to diet (influenced by p < 0.10 or significantly affected by p < 0.05) are presented in Additional file 12: Table S3. In brief, those taxa that had a treatment response were: Clostridium, Ruminococcus, Oscillibacter, Tannerella, Parabacteroides, Hydrogenoanaerobacterium, Pseudoflavonifractor, Acetivibrio, Ethanoligenens, Selenomonas, Desulfonispora, and Barnesiella.
The top 80 species comprised approximately 91% of the total abundance observed (Additional file 13: Table S4) and the following also show a significant response to treatment as detailed above. These are: Clostridium sp., Tannerella sp., Pseudoflavonifractor capillosus, Catabacter sp., Hydrogenoanaerobacterium saccharovorans, Ruminococcus bromii, and Parabacteroides merdae.
Results of an ANOVA like simulation test for the effects of treatment on the microbiome when distances among samples are measured using the unweighted UniFrac distance measure
Results of an ANOVA like simulation test for the effects of treatment on the when distances among samples are measured using the weighted UniFrac distance measure
Influence of distillers grain diets
Deep sequencing of 20 individual fecal samples from cattle fed five different diets (n = 4 per diet) provides a detailed view of the beef cattle fecal microbiome. The barcoded DNA pyrosequencing method yielded 127,530 high quality reads for microbiome comparison. We detected a core set of six bacterial phyla distributed across all animal fecal samples from all diets. In addition, we identified a total of 24 phyla distributed across a number of the fecal samples associated with the various diets that encompass 937 bacterial species distributed across 446 genera. We identified four phyla that were responsive to dietary treatments. These were Synergistetes (p = 0.01), WS3 (p = 0.05), Actinobacteria (p = 0.06), and Spirochaetes (p = 0.06). We also documented 12 genera and 7 species that responded to dietary treatments.
It can be difficult to make comparisons across these various cattle fecal studies since they have employed a variety of 16S rRNA-based sequencing strategies (choice of sequencing primers/sites and thus the type of phylogenetic information that can be extracted), the number and type of cattle employed in the studies and the types of diets and management practices associated with these diets. Short read lengths and potential biases in evenness (how many of each group) due to primer and template mismatches can result in pyro-sequencing artifacts that potentially affect taxonomic assignment and richness estimates . This is especially so with respect to rare OTUs. Questions have also been posed and examined regarding the influence of geographical location, climatic conditions, and other localized environmental variables on cattle fecal microbial community structure . Animal to animal variation was noted in fecal microbial diversity among beef cattle after controlling for location, climate, animal genetics, and diet . Both the number and relative abundance of phyla we observed agree more closely with the distribution of phyla observed in the Shanks et al.  study than in the Callaway et al. study . This could have been due to the number of cattle in the study (n = 30 vs. n = 6) or the size of the 16S OTUs dataset that was assembled (633,877 high-quality sequences). Both pyrosequencing studies [13, 15] employed different primer locations and different read lengths to generate their datasets. The V6 region was specifically targeted in the Shanks study and used short read lengths (51 to 81 bases), whereas that of Callaway targeted the V4-V6 region (~500 bp region). Thus, of the studies described in detail [10, 13–15], our results generally agree more closely with the findings of Shanks and Durso, despite using the methodology described by Dowd  and employed by Callaway . One possible explanation is that our choice of primers targeted the V1 through V3 region of the 16S rRNA gene whereas the primer set utilized in the Callaway study used the V4 to V6 region to assess phylogenetic information. Another difference is that all of the cattle in the Dowd study  were lactating Holstein dairy cows and for the Callaway study  they were Jersey dairy cows and Angus steers.
A number of taxa appear to fluctuate in response to diets. Two taxa, Ruminococcaceae and Prevotella spp., had distinct patterns in response to dietary treatments, whereas, the majority of 512 taxa identified did not fluctuate across different dietary practices . Other taxa identified in this study as being influenced by dietary treatment based on the UniFrac procedure were; Akkermansia, Clostridium, Escherichia, Eubacterium, Oscillibacter, Oscillospira, Prevotella, Ruminococcus, Tannerella, and Treponema. Two of these, Prevotella and Ruminococcus, were among those identified by Shanks . We noted the presence of phyla in our study that were also present in the massive DNA pyrosequencing study of Shanks et al.,  such as Actinobacteria, Spirochaetes, Verrucomicrobia, Cyanobacteria, Fibrobacteres, and Lentisphaerae. We also investigated the significance of the response of the dominant of phyla Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes to dietary treatments because these are highly abundant taxa and are thought to play a key role in energy capture. We also observed trends in Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes abundance as have others [13, 15]; however, we could not identify a significant response of these phyla to diet.
The DG diets evaluated in these studies seemed to have a complex effect on fecal microbiota. Several of the procedures used in this study identified a common set of taxa that seem to be responsive to the influence of corn and sorghum DG diets vs. that of the traditional steam-flaked corn diet. Some of these taxa were identified in other studies as responsive to or seemingly influenced by starch content in the diet or the DG diet regardless of the differences in experimental protocols and animals (beef vs. dairy cattle). The presence of large animal to animal variation is noted in our study using a culture-independent method as well as in a culture dependent approach by Durso et al. . However, the importance of a core set of taxa associated with the cattle bovine fecal microbiome is underscored by the fact that this core biome is observable regardless of the scale (ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of high quality reads) of sequencing efforts conducted across studies. It would appear that at least three phyla, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria comprise a core set of bacteria across all cattle types. Feeding corn- and sorghum-based DG in steam-flaked corn based diets resulted in significant shifts in the overall fecal microbial community structure ranging from phyla to genera. Ecological and evolutionary theory suggests that more diverse communities can make a greater contribution to ecosystem functioning [17, 18]. If each species uses a slightly different resource and occupies a highly specific niche in the community, a more diverse microbiome should be able to, for example, more efficiently capture energy or be capable of capturing greater amounts of energy or possibly both. Clearly, bacterial communities in the bovine fecal environment are highly adapted and at the same time constrained by selection for existence in this environment. The presence of core taxa across all these studies implies that these microbes are involved in performing fundamental metabolic functions essential to the collective cattle microbiome. What the exact metabolic significance of these universal metabolic functions is, and if or how a shift in microbial populations (at the phylogenetic scale of the shifts observed across this microbiome) affects these universal metabolic functions remains to be determined. Daily weight gain and efficiency of weight gain (gain per unit of feed consumed) for the cattle in this experiment decreased linearly (P = 0.01) as the dietary concentration of sorghum DG increased; however, these measurements did not differ between corn and sorghum DG fed as 10% of the dietary DM . The relationship between changes in cattle performance and alterations in the microbiome needs further study.
This is, to our knowledge, the first study using this method to survey the fecal microbiome of beef cattle fed various concentrations of wet DG. Comparison of our results with other cattle DNA sequencing studies of beef and dairy cattle from a variety of geographical locations and different management practices identifies a core set of three phyla shared across all cattle. These three phyla in order of relative abundance are; Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria. The presence of core taxa across all these studies implies that these microbes are involved in performing fundamental metabolic functions that are essential to the collective cattle microbiome. The presence of large animal-to-animal variation in cattle microbiome was noted in our study as well as by others.
Fecal collections and DNA Extraction
Dietary composition of the control and wet distillers grain diets used in the Lubbock feeding trials (from Exp. 1 of Vasconcelos et al., )
Wet sorghum distillers grain
Wet corn distillers grain
The sorghum DG used in the experiment was obtained from an ethanol plant in New Mexico and was a composite (dry matter basis) of 47.1% sorghum centrifuge wet cake (directly from the centrifuge), 18.4% syrup, and 34.5% corn DDG (dry matter basis). The corn DG was composed (dry matter basis) of approximately 65% centrifuge wet cake and 35% syrup. Both sources of DG were stored in plastic silo bags for the duration of the experiment. Fecal samples were obtained on the day of shipment of cattle to slaughter after 141 days of feeding. Fecal samples were collected from 20 beef cattle (as fecal grab samples, one per steer). Fecal grabs were stored in the gloves used to collect the sample at -20°C until further processing.
DNA was extracted using the QIAamp DNA Stool Mini Kit (Qiagen, Valencia, CA) according to the manufacturer's protocol. DNA was quantified using agarose gel electrophoresis.
DNA pyrosequencing analysis was according to the bacterial tag-encoded FLX 16S rRNA (bTEFAP) method originally described by Dowd et al. . Using 1-step PCR of 30 cycles based upon 28 F-519R primers. Sequences were quality trimmed Q25, depleted of short reads < 150 bp, reads with ambiguous base calls, and reads with homopolymer stretches > 6 bp. Clustering and denoising were performed using USEARCH 4.0 (http://Drive5.com) along with removal of singletons. The number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) was used as a measure of microbiome richness, with OTUs being defined based on 3% divergence. Organism abundance was expressed as a percentage of total sequences generated. Organisms representing less than 1% of populations in all samples were grouped as "other" in graphs (supplemental information) or not graphed at all.
DNA barcoded pyrosequencing analysis was performed to detect 4,000 to 6,000 sequences per sample. The number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) was used as a measure of microbiome richness, and OTUs were defined based on 3% divergence. Before analysis, rarefaction was used to standardize the number of OTUs to a constant number of sequences, thus facilitating comparisons among groups. Differences in the number of OTUs among animal diets were evaluated using an ANOVA (see Tables in manuscript and supplementary information). Here, each dietary treatment was analyzed separately. For multivariate analysis, the 16S OTUs distances among samples first were calculated using the unweighted (bacterial counts as 0 and 1 observations) UniFrac distance measure (, which measures the phylogenetic distances among samples. The weighted (actual abundance) UniFrac distance measure was used because it also considers the relative abundance of each OTU (16S rRNA read) when calculating phylogenetic distances. Principle coordinates analysis (PCoA) was used to display these differences in 2 dimensions, thereby facilitating an overall assessment of variability in the entire microbiome among samples. To test for multivariate differences among treatment groups, distance based redundancy analysis (dbRDA)  was used. In addition, the relative abundances of all genera were evaluated using an ANOVA. Here, relative abundances were transformed (p' = arcsine (√p)) before analysis, and analyses were conducted separately for each of the diets. As an initial screening evaluation, uncontrolled p-values were used to screen taxa. Data are illustrated in figures in the manuscript and supplementary information. Rarefaction curves and UniFrac distances were calculated using QIIME , and all other analyses were conducted in R , using the vegan  and labdsv  packages. Double hierarchal cluster analysis was conducted using NCSS 2007 software (NCSS, Kaysville, UT) and one-way ANOVA was also conducted using JMP9 software (JMP, SAS, Cary, NC).
The authors recognize Lana Castleberry for the preparation of community DNA samples for analysis.
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