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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Monitoring the disturbance of the microbiota in Amazonian soils during conversion of forest to pasture and its consequences on cattle health

PI: Ederson Jesus (, Embrapa (Brazilian Corporation of Agricultural Research)
U.S. Partner: James Cole, Michigan State University
Project Dates:  October 2015 - September 2019

Project Overview

4-299 MiGA Workshop
Dr. Jesus (left) with U.S. partner Dr. James Cole of Michigan State University and Dr. Kostas Konstantinidis from Georgia Tech, along with a third U.S. partner, Dr. Adina Howe of Iowa State University at the MiGA workshop (photo courtesy of Dr. Jesus).
Pandemics of “swollen face,” a bacterial-origin periodontitis disease afflicting ruminant livestock, have been correlated with deforested areas in Brazil (Döbereiner et al., 2000). This disease, which is also known as "lumpy face," was commonly reported in Brazil during the 1960s and 1980s. New cases have recently been observed in sheep and goat flocks in the Amazon, under the same epidemiological conditions and with the same characteristics observed in bovines. In such circumstances, the disease has destroyed herds of livestock, often up to 90% of the animals. Dr. Jesus and his project collaborators hypothesize a link between the “swollen face” disease and shifts in the soil microbial communities as a consequence of deforestation and pasture introduction. This belief is based on previous evidence showing that this disease is triggered by deforestation, which in turn leads to significant changes in the soil communities, favoring specific populations such as actinomycetes. The team’s objective is to characterize correlations between the soil environment, changes in the microbial community due to deforestation, and the occurrence of this disease. Once more specific correlations are identified, they will experimentally test hypotheses (e.g., causation) generated through isolating key microbes and using culture-dependent and independent techniques. Answering these questions is important to advance towards a cure for the disease and design monitoring methods and alternative management to reduce its incidence. Additionally, confirming the link between the occurrence of diseases, deforestation, and changes in biodiversity will contribute to the delineation of policies to hinder deforestation and to promote biodiversity conservation. As part of the effort, the U.S. Government-supported partner, Dr. James Cole, will provide training and support with bioinformatic analysis of the datasets, sharing analytical tools he uses in his own research.

The world’s growing population and their increasing demand for animal protein raises concerns over the pressure for the creation of new pastures to meet this demand, especially in countries like Brazil, which is the world’s leading beef exporter. New pastures are created at the expense of native lands, including the Brazilian Amazon. In fact, pasture introduction is the major driver of deforestation in the region, and alternatives to reduce this pressure are needed. Within this context, this project can contribute with information to support policymakers in their decisions, as well as to create alternatives to the sustainable management of pre-existing pasture lands. The results of this project may also contribute to designing sustainable, innovative management systems, such as the integrated crop-livestock-forest system, which has been recognized by FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture of Brazil, and Embrapa as an alternative to stimulate the use of pre-existing pasture lands, guarantee food and agricultural security, and discourage the deforestation of new areas for agriculture and livestock production.

Summary of Recent Activities

The PI Dr. Jesus and his team were very busy during the first quarter of 2018 extracting DNA from samples collected. By April they had extracted DNA from 197 soil samples and 43 grass samples, with 30 more samples in process. After those are completed, the samples will be sent to Argonne National Laboratory for sequencing. Meanwhile, work is also being done to analyze soil fertility data by principal components analysis. The results show that the three study locations have distinct soils. Soils from Bujari are clayey and the most fertile. In Boca do Acre, soils are also clayey, but with lower fertility, while soils in Santo Antonio do Matupi are sandy and originally with low fertility, but with fertility increased in pastures, with great variability among the sampling points. The results will be correlated with microbial community structure as soon as the sequencing data are available. In other recent field work, team members visited slaughterhouses to determine the prevalence of periodontal disease by examining animals being prepared for slaughter. In February, postdoc Ana Carolina Borsanelli visited slaughterhouses in Manaus and Manacapuru (AM) and analyzed the frequency of periodontal lesions in 302 animals, taking subgingival biofilm samples from both healthy and sick animals. Also that month, Ana Carolina and co-PI Dr. Iveraldo Dutra visited farms in Mato Grosso to evaluate the occurrence of dental problems and to check the possibility of selecting any of the farms as additional sampling sites. They examined dozens of animals and collected samples for sequencing. On the capacity building side of the project, on April 6 Dr. Christiane Marie Schweitzer taught a full-day course, “Introduction to Biostatistics Applied to Experimental Research,” to the UNESP-based members of the PEER team in Araçatuba.

During May through July 2018, Dr. Iveraldo is in contact with staff of the Animal Health Surveillance Agency, Rural Extension Company, and professionals from Pará, Amazonas, and Mato Grosso to identify new sites for epidemiological studies. Contacts are also being established with slaughterhouses from Marabá, Santana do Araguaia, Tucumã, and Redenção. The Embrapa Soils team will begin visiting the sampling sites for soil characterization in July, when the expected start of the dry season will make it possible to access the locations. Dr. Iveraldo will visit some additional new sites in the coming months, including a farm in Rondonópolis, where one of the first reports of the disease was made in Brazil. These visits will be important in defining the location for carrying out experiments in our second phase of the project. The results from the DNA sequencing at Argonne will also allow the team to begin work correlating the results with soil fertility analysis.

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