Antibiotic Affects Cow Dung

Researchers assess some of the downstream effects of treating livestock with a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

By Tracy Vence | May 25, 2016

PIXABAY, LAKEWOODUCCTreating livestock with prophylactic antibiotics “may have unintended environmental impacts mediated by interactions among the wide range of micro- and macro-organisms found in agroecosystems,” researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and their colleagues reported today (May 25) in Proceedings of the Royal Academy B. Specifically, the international team analyzed the downstream effects of treating cattle with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, finding that the drug—a tetracycline antibiotic—affected greenhouse gasses emitted from the animals’ dung. The team also identified residual effects on dung beetles, including alterations to the insects’ microbiomes.

“Antibiotics restructure dung beetle microbiota and modify greenhouse gas emissions from dung indicate that antibiotic treatment may have unintended, cascading ecological effects that extend beyond the target animal,” the authors wrote in their paper.

“We were surprised to find such a big increase in methane emissions in dung,” study coauthor Tobin Hammer of the University of Colorado, Boulder, told New Scientist. “We believe that the tetracycline treatment favors the growth of methanogenic archaea in the cows’ intestinal tract by reducing the bacteria in the gut.”

Hammer told BBC News it remains to be tested whether the effects apply to non-tetracycline antibiotics. Further, he said, he and his colleagues have yet to discern “whether, in terms of environmental impact of antibiotics, the problem of methane emissions is outweighed by the benefits of increasing feed efficiency and treating disease.”

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Avatar of: mightythor


Posts: 88

May 25, 2016

Livestock is a significant source of anthropogenic methane (around 35%), but of that, 95% apparently comes from bovine eructation, with most of the rest from flatulence (belching and farting, in plain Anglo-Saxon).  I doubt if a 2-fold increase in emissions from dung (a number that should have been reported here) has a significant impact on overall methane production.  The basic finding -- downstream effects on microbiota -- is interesting, although hypothetical changes in dung ecology remain to be documented.  My (admittedly anthropocentric) expectation would be that coprophages have to have pretty strong stomachs.

Avatar of: gengineer


Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from mightythor made on May 25, 2016

May 25, 2016

I suspect that if the effect of the antibiotics is to skew the microbiota toward methanogens then there would likely also be an increase in the methane relased from both ends of the animal, not just what comes out of the dung.

Avatar of: roita


Posts: 1

June 27, 2016

is that a research article?


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