Grazing livestock are exposed to terrestrial cyanobacteria

Bruce C. McGorum*, R. Scott Pirie, Laura Glendinning, Gerry McLachlan, James S. Metcalf, Sandra A. Banack, Paul A. Cox, Geoffrey A. Codd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

While toxins from aquatic cyanobacteria are a well-recognised cause of disease in birds and animals, exposure of grazing livestock to terrestrial cyanobacteria has not been described. This study identified terrestrial cyanobacteria, predominantly Phormidium spp., in the biofilm of plants from most livestock fields investigated. Lower numbers of other cyanobacteria, microalgae and fungi were present on many plants. Cyanobacterial 16S rDNA, predominantly from Phormidium spp., was detected in all samples tested, including 6 plant washings, 1 soil sample and ileal contents from 2 grazing horses. Further work was performed to test the hypothesis that ingestion of cyanotoxins contributes to the pathogenesis of some currently unexplained diseases of grazing horses, including equine grass sickness (EGS), equine motor neuron disease (EMND) and hepatopathy. Phormidium population density was significantly higher on EGS fields than on control fields. The cyanobacterial neurotoxic amino acid 2,4-diaminobutyric acid (DAB) was detected in plant washings from EGS fields, but worst case scenario estimations suggested the dose would be insufficient to cause disease. Neither DAB nor the cyanobacterial neurotoxins β-N-methylamino-L-alanine and N-(2-aminoethyl) glycine were detected in neural tissue from 6 EGS horses, 2 EMND horses and 7 control horses. Phormidium was present in low numbers on plants where horses had unexplained hepatopathy. This study did not yield evidence linking known cyanotoxins with disease in grazing horses. However, further study is warranted to identify and quantify toxins produced by cyanobacteria on livestock fields, and determine whether, under appropriate conditions, known or unknown cyanotoxins contribute to currently unexplained diseases in grazing livestock.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalVeterinary Research
Volume46
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2015

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