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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 30;8(4):e63157. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063157. Print 2013.

Fecal microbial diversity in pre-weaned dairy calves as described by pyrosequencing of metagenomic 16S rDNA. Associations of Faecalibacterium species with health and growth.

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  • 1Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, United States of America.


In this study, we use barcoded pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene to characterize the fecal microbiota of neonatal calves and identify possible relationships of certain microbiota profiles with health and weight gain. Fecal samples were obtained weekly from 61 calves from birth until weaning (seventh week of the calves' life). Firmicutes was the most prevalent phylum, with a prevalence ranging from 63.84% to 81.90%, followed by Bacteroidetes (8.36% to 23.93%), Proteobacteria (3.72% to 9.75%), Fusobacteria (0.76% to 5.67%), and Actinobacteria (1.02% to 2.35%). Chao1 index gradually increased from the first to the seventh postnatal week. Chao1 index was lower during the third, fourth, and fifth week of life in calves that suffered from pneumonia and were treated with antibiotics. Diarrhea incidence during the first four weeks of the calves' life was also associated with a reduction of microbial diversity during the third week of life. Increased fecal microbial diversity after the second week of life was associated with higher weight gain. Using discriminant analysis we were able to show differences in the microbiota profiles between different weeks of life, between high and low weight gain groups of calves, and between calves affected and not affected with diarrhea during the first four weeks life. The prevalence of Faecalibacterium spp. in the first week of life was associated with weight gain and the incidence of diarrhea, with higher prevalence being associated with higher weight gain and less diarrhea. Representative sequences from Faecalibacterium spp. were closely affiliated to Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Results presented here provide new information regarding the intestinal microbiota of neonatal calves and its association with health and growth. Fecal microbial diversity was associated with calf age, disease status and growth rates. Results suggesting a possible beneficial effect of Faecalibacterium spp. on health and growth are promising.

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