The hindgut microbiota of equines enables forage utilisation; however, the limited efficiency of this process currently requires that the diets of many equines are supplemented with energy-dense concentrates in order to meet their dietary energy requirements. This practice can disturb the equine hindgut microbiota, resulting in the development of gut-mediated diseases which are a major health and welfare issue and economic cost to the equine community. Despite the fact that anaerobic fungi are the most effective of the fibre-degrading gut microbes, they have been largely overlooked in equine gut microbiology studies to date. A recently funded 2.5 year project, EQUIANFUN, will now specifically research this under-explored area of equine gut microbiology.
EQUIANFUN is a personal Marie Curie Fellowship (building on the core skills base of Dr Joan E. Edwards) that broadens the current equine research portfolio of the Centre of Animal Nutrition: enabling the inter-relationships between gut microbiota and equine nutrition, health and welfare to be specifically explored. The project utilises internationally leading expertise and facilities at the Laboratory of Microbiology (MIB) at Wageningen University (WU), the Animal Nutrition (ANU) group at WU, the Nutrition Division and Equine Clinic of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences at Utrecht University (UU) and the Donkey Sanctuary (DS) (Sidmouth, UK). The multidisciplinary project team includes: Prof Hauke Smidt (WU-MIB), Dr Jan Dijkstra (WU-ANU), Dr Wilbert Pellikaan (WU-ANU), Dr David van Doorn (UU), Dr Henk Everts (UU) and Dr Faith Burden (DS).
EQUIANFUN will establish new baseline knowledge of the phylogeny, community structure, physiology and nutritional impact of equine hindgut anaerobic fungi. Dr Joan Edwards believes that forage utilisation in equids can be enhanced through promoting indigenous anaerobic fungal communities in the equine hindgut, enabling significant advances to be made in the optimisation of the nutrition, health and welfare of all domesticated equids.