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Clemmons, B.A.; Shin, S.B.; Smith, T.P.L.; Embree, M.M.; Voy, B.H.; Schneider, L.G.; Donohoe, D.R.; McLean, K.J.; Myer, P.R. Ruminal Protozoal Populations of Angus Steers Differing in Feed Efficiency. Animals 2021, 11, 1561. https:// doi.org/10.3390/ani11061561 Academic Editor: Cristina Saro Received: 5 April 2021 Accepted: 24 May 2021 Published: 27 May 2021 Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Copyright: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ 4.0/).
Feed accounts for as much as 70% of beef production costs, and improvement of the efficiency with which animals convert feed to product has the potential to have substantial financial impact on the beef industry. The rumen microbiome plays a key role in determining feed efficiency; however, previous studies of rumen microbiota have not focused on protozoal communities despite the estimation that these organisms represent approximately 50% of rumen content biomass. Protozoal communities participate in the regulation of bacterial populations and nitrogen cycling—key aspects of microbiome dynamics. The present study focused on identifying potential associations of protozoal community profiles with feed efficiency. Weaned steers (n = 50) 7 months of age weighing approximately 260 kg were adapted to a growing ration and GrowSafe for 2 weeks prior to a 70-day feed efficiency trial. The GrowSafe system is a feeding system that monitors feed intake in real time. Body weights were collected on the first day and then every 7 days of the feed efficiency trial, and on the final day, approximately 50 mL of rumen content were collected via orogastric tubing and frozen at −80 ◦C. Body weight and feed intake were used to calculate residual feed intake (RFI) as a measure of feed efficiency, and steers were categorized as high (n = 14) or low (n = 10) RFI based on ±0.5 standard deviations about the mean RFI. Microbial DNA was extracted, and the eukaryotic component profiled by amplification and sequencing of 18S genes using degenerate primers that can amplify this locus across a range of protists. The taxonomy of protozoal sequences was assigned using QIIME 1.9 and analyzed using QIIME and SAS 9.4 with significance determined at α ≤ 0.05. Greater abundances of unassigned taxa were associated with high-RFI steers (p = 0.03), indicating a need for further study to identify component protozoal species. Differences were observed between low- and high-RFI steers in protozoal community phylogenetic diversity, including weighted beta-diversity (p = 0.04), Faith’s phylogenetic diversity (p = 0.03), and observed Operational taxonomic unit (OTU) (p = 0.03). The unassigned taxa and differences in phylogenetic diversity of protozoal communities may contribute to divergences observed in feed efficiency phenotypes in beef steers.