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J Microbiol Methods. 2011 Feb;84(2):278-82. doi: 10.1016/j.mimet.2010.12.008. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Virulence-associated and antibiotic resistance genes of microbial populations in cattle feces analyzed using a metagenomic approach.

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USDA, ARS, Agroecosystem Mangagement Research Unit, UNL-East Campus, Lincoln, NE 68983, USA.


The bovine fecal microbiota impacts human food safety as well as animal health. Although the bacteria of cattle feces have been well characterized using culture-based and culture-independent methods, techniques have been lacking to correlate total community composition with community function. We used high throughput sequencing of total DNA extracted from fecal material to characterize general community composition and examine the repertoire of microbial genes present in beef cattle feces, including genes associated with antibiotic resistance and bacterial virulence. Results suggest that traditional 16S sequencing using "universal" primers to generate full-length sequence may under represent Acitinobacteria and Proteobacteria. Over eight percent (8.4%) of the sequences from our beef cattle fecal pool sample could be categorized as virulence genes, including a suite of genes associated with resistance to antibiotic and toxic compounds (RATC). This is a higher proportion of virulence genes found in Sargasso sea, chicken cecum, and cow rumen samples, but comparable to the proportion found in Antarctic marine derived lake, human fecal, and farm soil samples. The quantitative nature of metagenomic data, combined with the large number of RATC classes represented in samples from widely different habitats indicates that metagenomic data can be used to track relative amounts of antibiotic resistance genes in individual animals over time. Consequently, these data can be used to generate sample-specific and temporal antibiotic resistance gene profiles to facilitate an understanding of the ecology of the microbial communities in each habitat as well as the epidemiology of antibiotic resistant gene transport between and among habitats.

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