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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Jan;14(1):129-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02543.x. Epub 2011 Sep 12.

Characterization of the rumen microbiota of pre-ruminant calves using metagenomic tools.

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Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory, Animal and Natural Resources Institute, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.


The temporal sequence of microbial establishment in the rumen of the neonatal ruminant has important ecological and pathophysiological implications. In this study, we characterized the rumen microbiota of pre-ruminant calves fed milk replacer using two approaches, pyrosequencing of hypervariable V3-V5 regions of the 16S rRNA gene and whole-genome shotgun approach. Fifteen bacterial phyla were identified in the microbiota of pre-ruminant calves. Bacteroidetes was the predominant phylum in the rumen microbiota of 42-day-old calves, representing 74.8% of the 16S sequences, followed by Firmicutes (12.0%), Proteobacteria (10.4%), Verrucomicrobia (1.2%) and Synergistetes (1.1%). However, the phylum-level composition of 14-day-old calves was distinctly different. A total of 170 bacterial genera were identified while the core microbiome of pre-ruminant calves included 45 genera. Rumen development seemingly had a significant impact on microbial diversity. The dazzling functional diversity of the rumen microbiota was reflected by identification of 8298 Pfam and 3670 COG protein families. The rumen microbiota of pre-ruminant calves displayed a considerable compositional heterogeneity during early development. This is evidenced by a profound difference in rumen microbial composition between the two age groups. However, all functional classes between the two age groups had a remarkably similar assignment, suggesting that rumen microbial communities of pre-ruminant calves maintained a stable function and metabolic potentials while their phylogenetic composition fluctuated greatly. The presence of all major types of rumen microorganisms suggests that the rumen of pre-ruminant calves may not be rudimentary. Our results provide insight into rumen microbiota dynamics and will facilitate efforts in formulating optimal early-weaning strategies.

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