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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. Ederson Jesus and his team visited three farms in the municipality of Santo Antônio do Matupi, Amazonas State, November 4-14, 2018, in order to (1) classify the soils at the sampling sites, (2) reevaluate the occurrence of dental problems in cattle, and (3) collect soil and forage samples. They had sampled two of the farms in 2017, and the third was included as a negative control, as no sick animals were found there. These soil samples are being analyzed in the laboratory of Embrapa Solos. Detailed soil classification will be defined after the results are received. Meanwhile, the researchers are tabulating the data generated from their clinical examinations of animals and from soil samples. Samples of subgingival biofilm and ruminal content were sequenced and results received in September 2018. In December, postdoc Ana Carolina Borsanelli and the PI Dr. Jesus met to discuss and analyze the sequencing results, and sequence analysis is underway. In addition, a total of 48 bovine saliva samples were collected and submitted for proteomic analysis at the Dental School of Bauru, São Paulo, with the results arriving in October.

In December 2018, two students involved in the project took part in a training course offered by Dr. Tsai Siu Mui of the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture. The course, entitled “Biodiversity and conservation in the tropics: a molecular approach,” provided the students with exposure to the state of the art in the field and gave them new skills in various techniques for sequence data analysis.

Analysis of sequence and soil data continues on the project as of early 2019. The PI reports that he and his group are testing a few methodologies in the literature and providing students with additional training to carry out these tasks. The team also plans a visit to Araçatuba to select the site for their field experiment that will be carried out by UNESP in the coming months. This experiment aims at inducing changes in the oral microbiota of animals, so the researchers can identify and track those that occur due to changes in the soil environment.

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