Graduate Research

Associations Between Nutrition, Gut Microbial Communities, and Health in Nonhuman Primates

The red-shanked douc, an Old World monkey and member of the subfamily Colobinae, serves as a model system to examine the relationship between dietary composition, gut microbial community structure, and health. This work addressed critical knowledge gaps about the relationship between gut microbial communities and health, including the relationship between primate gut microbial communities and nutrient utilization in species with evolutionarily specialized diets. Three objectives were employed in this study: 1) Collection of an archive of fecal samples and feedstuffs of wild and captive red-shanked doucs. 2) Characterization of the gut microbiome and metabolic capacity of captive and wild doucs. We measured their gut microbial community composition and metabolic potential using 16S rRNA sequencing of fecal contents. 3) Characterization of the chemical composition of feed samples. Statistical analyses were performed to identify correlations between diet, gut microbiome species, gut metabolic potential, and animal status (captive vs. wild). These data were used collectively to identify correlations between diet and microbiota related in captive versus wild animals.


 

Examination of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in Nonhuman Primates

 

A study was performed during the summer of 2009 in collaboration with the Como Park Zoo in Saint Paul, MN, which was experiencing an increased incidence and severity of diarrhea among their nonhuman primate collections. From July-September of 2009, we collected fecal samples on a weekly basis from the animals within the primate collection and isolated Escherichia coli (E. coli) using previously published techniques. For this study, we sought to screen for an array of E. coli virulence genes to determine their presence in E. coli from nonhuman primate species. We started with ExPEC-associated genes in an effort to assess human health risk of acquiring ExPEC during contact with nonhuman primates. We wanted to determine if primates are in fact a reservoir for resistance genes. Overall, our goal was to assess human health disease risk by screening for ExPEC-associated genes. Overall, the manifestation of colitis in this nonhuman primate collection is a complex problem whose solution will require screening for microbial agents and consideration of environmental causes. In future studies, we plan to screen for more E. coli virulence genes and pathogens in an attempt to associate clinical symptoms with biological agents present in the gastrointestinal tracts of these primates.

 

Examination of Campylobacter spp. in Nonhuman Primates

 

A study was performed during the summer of 2009 in collaboration with the Como Park Zoo in Saint Paul, MN, which was experiencing an increased incidence and severity of diarrhea among their nonhuman primate collections. From July-September of 2009, we collected fecal samples on a weekly basis from the animals within the primate collection and isolated Campylobacter using previously published techniques. Our results indicate that Campylobacter was routinely isolated from only certain nonhuman primate species. Campylobacter isolates were subsequently speciated with multiple species identified. There was a gross correlation between Campylobacter prevalence within an animal and a history of diarrhea, however this correlation was not absolute. Ultimately, the manifestation of diarrheal illness in nonhuman primate collections is indeed complex and likely involves multiple microbial agents in combination with environmental causes.